Iowa Alumni Magazine | August 2009 | News

One Year Later

By IAM Staff
The UI community commemorates the historic flood of 2008 with a determination to "Remember, Reimagine, Rebuild."

Congressman Dave Loebsack

Cambuses chugged along their usual routes, students streamed across the Pentacrest between classes, and the Iowa River glinted faintly in the distance. Just an everyday campus scene at the University of Iowa—and one worthy of celebration.

A year ago, the UI campus looked drastically different. Then, crowds of disheveled and exhausted volunteers filled thousands of sandbags in a desperate attempt to hold back the rising waters as the Iowa River crept relentlessly up Iowa Avenue and into university buildings.

"What a difference a year makes," said President Sally Mason, standing on the west steps of the Old Capitol this past June 15 at a commemorative event to mark the first anniversary of that devastating flood.

Sunshine and the occasional soaring bird filled the air as President Mason and several speakers elaborated on the anniversary theme of "Remember, Reimagine, Rebuild" and paid tribute to all the people who helped the university and the state recover from one of the most costly natural disasters in U.S history.

The flood caused $743 million in damages to the UI campus, wreaking havoc on important buildings and resources such as the Museum of Art and Hancher Auditorium. Although recovery will take years and rebuilding efforts will likely change the UI in significant ways, university administrators envision a campus more vibrant and vital than ever.

Undoubtedly traumatic, the flood also offered unprecedented opportunities. "Where else but at a research university would we use a natural disaster to do research?" asked Mason, who also formally announced that the UI would house the new Iowa Flood Center, led by civil and environmental engineering professor Witold Krajewski. The center has already received more than $500,000 in grants from the National Science Foundation for projects such as improving flood forecasts, monitoring, and mitigation in Iowa.

To end a ceremony marked by optimism and pride, Iowa Writers' Workshop professor Marilynne Robinson read from her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Gilead, about a fictional preacher and small Iowa town. Drawing parallels between that tale and the real-life events that overtook the UI last year, Robinson praised the qualities of Iowa and Iowans that were displayed during the flood.

Echoing a theme that ran through most of the speeches at the commemoration, she said, "The recurrence of strength, courage, and community in Iowa can be relied upon as the nature of this place."