Ah, the summer of ’93—a wet and tiring mess. Sandbags, traffic jams, water-filled basements, soaked offices, lots of rain, and muggy weather to boot. For sure, what has been billed as the Great Flood of ’93 wasn’t so great.
In June and July of that year, torrential rains soaked Iowa City with nearly 40 inches of precipitation. Water in the Coralville Reservoir climbed over the dam’s spillway for the first time, causing the Iowa River to swell and submerge areas of the UI campus. Johnson County was declared a state disaster area.
Ten years later, several employees reflect on the crisis with relief.
Ann Rhodes, assistant to the vice president for health affairs:
“In mid-June it started raining and it didn’t stop. Phil Jones [vice president for student services] convened a committee called the Administrative Liaison Group to address flooding issues and their impact on the campus. We met weekly to discuss contingencies should the water reach certain levels—and then the levels that seemed inconceivable just a week earlier would be met. As the water rose, the committee started meeting more and more frequently and grew to include more and more people, including representatives from Iowa City, Coralville, Johnson County, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“Although access to different facilities on campus was complicated because Dubuque Street was flooded, the University didn’t cancel classes. We did, however, make the difficult decision to cancel commencement.
“I will never forget that summer. In fact, every time there’s
a big rain during the summer, I look out the window and think, ‘Oh
Al Stroh, assistant to the director, Facilities Services Group:
“Due to the flooding, the air conditioning in Voxman did not work and access to the building required going through water, so we had to reschedule some summer-session classes—a real mess! I also recall that the I-380 bridge over the Iowa River was closed, so everyone had to use Highway 1 to get back and forth from Iowa City to Cedar Rapids. It became a two- to three-hour trip one way.
“Although the flood was bad, the water level was still almost
four feet below the flood of 1918—as marked on the west side of
the old city water plant.”
Maggie Van Oel, director, Residence Services:
“Those were desperate times. Not only was it difficult to get to work, it was difficult when you got to work.
“We’d had a lot of rain in June and just as we were starting to put equipment back together after flooding in Mayflower, we got another big rain around the Fourth of July. The National Guard came in during the night and evacuated 77 students from Mayflower, and we didn’t let students back in until October.
“That summer was extremely stressful. For fall housing requests,
we added another person temporarily to rooms that had already been contracted
to students as doubles, because we didn’t know when Mayflower would
reopen. Everyone was fairly understanding, though, and many students
decided to change the original occupancy of their rooms and keep the
Charles Swanson, executive director, Hancher Auditorium:
“Water covered all the areas of Hancher except for the box office and patio area on the north side. So, in the beginning of July, we moved our offices to the Hancher lobby. We are a very small and close staff, and this experience brought us even closer together.
“Ticket sales were very slow, but we received donations from people all over the country who were very concerned about Hancher and how the flood was affecting our performances. It was a nice feeling to know we have lots of friends from all over who care.
“I will never forget how hard the employees of Physical Plant worked trying to protect the building and all the long hours they put in. We actually put a thank-you note for them in our playbill at the opening of the season. We couldn’t have done it without them.”
Pam Trimpe, curator of painting and sculpture, Museum of Art:
“The museum closed and didn’t open to the public again until
October, and we had to move our offices to the engineering building.
The parking lot was a fishpond, and I remember seeing water pouring into
the Focus II gallery. They actually had to punch holes in the walls to
keep them from collapsing. Although we didn’t have to evacuate
any art, it was a very nervous time for us.”
Ken Lloyd, associate utility director, Facilities Services Group:
“One of the things that got our attention, and the attention of the nation, was when Des Moines lost its water treatment facilities under the flood. Suddenly a quarter of a million Iowans didn’t have water to drink and didn’t have adequate sanitary facilities for their homes. In Iowa City, the City Water Plant was at high risk due to its relatively low elevation next to the Iowa River, and the University Water Plant was at risk due to the location of our river intake structure and pumps.
“Through the dedication and heroic efforts of the Water Plant
and other Physical Plant staff, as well as assistance from the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers and many others inside and outside of the University
community, the UI water supply remained safe.”
Julia Golden, curator, geoscience:
“A very pleasant surprise that summer was how many geological
features were revealed by the floods. The Devonian Fossil Gorge [adjacent
to the Coralville Dam] has become a very valuable educational resource
for the Department of Geoscience. New graduate students are taken there
as an introduction to the local geology. Undergraduate students taking
beginning geoscience courses also go on field trips there, and we give
tours to school and community groups.”
Doug Lee, director of credit programs, Division of Continuing Education:
“It definitely was not business as usual that summer. The problem for us was the arts campus. Because of the need for specific types of facilities, relocating those classes was difficult. Where do you find a dozen pianos or a kiln to fire pottery? In some cases, faculty members held classes in their homes. We also had classes at West High, and West Music even loaned us some equipment.
“Through it all, a great spirit of cooperation existed—people wanted to try to give students educational opportunities, and for the most part, we were successful.”
by Sara Epstein Moninger