Columbus Junction recalls record 2008 flooding a decade later

COLUMBUS JUNCTION, Iowa -

10 years to the day after record flooding nearly wiped out some 20 businesses here, folks in Columbus Junction are pausing to look back on the high water headaches.

It's a hot Friday in mid-June 2018.  This town of 1,900 is high and dry.  But in similar conditions 10 years ago, it was a far different scene.

"There was a possibility that we would have to evacuate," recalled Earlene Lekwa, who was working at Colonel's Kids Child Care at the time.  "A couple days later, we got the call - you've got to get out."

Record flooding began ravaging low-lying businesses, including Colonel's Kids, nearly washing away the Economart grocery store.

City leaders like then-Mayor Dan Wilson decided that unifying under one voice would make their response more effective.

"If it wasn't for the fact that it was what you label a disaster, it was really a positive thing for our community," he recalled.

While most residents were lucky to live on higher ground, businesses weren't so fortunate.  The Senior Center was among the hardest hit.

"Some of the businesses in that area had water halfway up their buildings," recalled Columbus Junction Mayor Mark Huston.  "The fairgrounds was completely under water."

But Columbus Junction learned from past floods.  It worked hard, teamed with the Iowa National Guard, and didn't give up.

"When you bring it up, people almost smile and talk about it," Wilson continued.  "I think they're able to do that because the community worked so hard to fix it and recover."

The flooding in Columbus Junction also produced some unusual events.  There was a wedding on the viaduct during the midst of it all.  Plus, 2008 Republican Presidential nominee Sen. John McCain spent a steamy morning surveying the damage.

10 years later, nearly all the businesses returned - including the grocery store.

These days, levee improvements, new pumps and water upgrades keep it ready to face the future.  A future, they hope, without flooding.

"We have a good community here," Lekwa concluded.  "People just chipped in and went to work."