Iowa's DNR Recounts Harrowing Evacuations
After 11 inches of rain and heavy flooding over three days, park crews are assessing damage throughout campground units in Yellow River State Forest in northeast Iowa's Allamakee County. Rain through early Saturday (June 22) sent Little Paint Creek out of its banks and through campgrounds.
More than 80 people were evacuated through the day. With more storms forecast, park workers moved backpack campers out of the Brown’s Hollow area of the 8,500-acre state forest Saturday night, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reported in a news release.
Flooding on Sunday piled up a new wave of damage.
Car Washed Away
“The car which was swept under the bridge Saturday is now washed away. We can’t find it,” updates park ranger Rylan Retallick. The driver of that car did climb through its sunroof to safety, before trees, other debris and flood water twisted it under the pedestrian/snowmobile bridge. “All the picnic tables in that campground are gone. Fire rings anchored in concrete were rolled 50-75 yards away.”
Now, park officials will assess damage and cleanup. “Our No. 1 plan is to get vehicles out of the campground,” stresses Retallick. Those vehicles were left behind when campers were evacuated from the Little Paint Creek unit campground. “But to put other people in danger to get those cars out (prematurely) would be ill-advised.”
Through the day Saturday, the roadway was under water and the pedestrian bridge was knocked off its base due to the flooded car and other debris. Rescue crews used all-terrain vehicles to transport campers to safety.
“We went out across (another) foot bridge and took their short cut through the timber … out to trucks, to take us to the community center,” said Dan Homan, whose family was the last of those 69 people evacuated. Earlier, 20 to 25 more campers in the front half of the campground had been able to leave, after piles of storm-washed rock was bulldozed from a shallow crossing.
Some tense moments came during the Saturday "move out" when one family’s whereabouts could not be verified. It was eventually determined the campers had left ahead of the flooding, for an area motel.
The Harpers Ferry Community Center provided cots and sleeping quarters Saturday night. Many of those families had their vehicles and nonessential items stranded back at the campground. The Red Cross and Emergency Services of Allamakee County provided food and water through the day.
Teamwork through the ordeal kept everyone safe. Besides DNR parks and law enforcement workers, the Allamakee County sheriff’s office, volunteers from Harper’s Ferry Volunteer Fire Department, Mar-Mac Emergency Services, campground hosts Jim and Missy Sess kept the evacuation moving. Even Allamakee County School District pitched in, with a bus to get the campers to their overnight shelter.
“We could not do it without all of them,” emphasizes Retallick. “We help each other when we can. We were all a team to get these people out safely.”