Two Stories of Hope
from Flood Victims
By Joyce Godwin Grubbs
December 25, 2009 –Cedar Rapids, Iowa (Cable
Muse Network) - Eighteen months of displacement and struggling with bureaucratic red-tape, flood victims gathered to consider
legal action including an official investigation into city management and an official Congressional Complaint to request an
investigation at federal levels. There are also appeals for legal representation for their buyouts; a concept which has been
endorsed by Mayor-elect Ron Corbett stating “the victims are losing hope.” Yet in the season of hope, some victims
remember the parts of the flood that also brought blessings.
Craig and Molly Seeley stood with neighbors on NW Sixth in Cedar Rapids, June 11, 2008.
Together they drew a line in the sand; only this one was drawn with sandbags and in mud. The Cedar River was rising. Though
Craig had lived there 62 years, he never believed the water would reach his house to do such damage.
Seven truckloads of bicycles were brought to Craig’s property as he bought out a bicycle
business of 35 years with the intent of making a retirement business in his home. Two truckloads were still unloaded when
the flood hit his property. $10,000 worth of inventory was lost when volunteers mistakenly put it out, and the trash collections
came up onto his property instead of taking only what was bagged and on the curb. There was no reimbursement.
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Collectors of memories, old and new, their entire adult lives, Molly returned to her home to
see the devastation and not one thing redeemable. Craig and Molly tried to show some humor in their curbside offerings. Craig
was suffering from a “scaled” red leg syndrome “from chemicals in the toxic waters, and along with his wife
and family suffered strep throats, and many illnesses. But the sight that met their eyes when they first got the front door
forced open to their home was devastating.
So where are the angels in all of this? Enter Hayden and Katie McPartland, owners of a house
four doors from the Seeley’s daughter and far away from the flood, yet still in Cedar Rapids. Craig found it riding
his bicycle and Molly declared it to be her “dream house”, so what was Craig to do but pray and try. Of his wife,
Craig had only high praise. “Molly volunteered for 15 years at Aid to Women, a crisis pregnancy center in Cedar
Rapids and now she is a (paid) staff member and assistant to Barb Hosford in the Treasures Store. [Treasures Store]
is a donation store that helps make money for the assistance of the clients that come to the center in need. It was the
house Molly deserved to have.”
It had been on the market for some time, and though fairly priced and a good buy, the owners
had not determined the buyer. When they met Craig and Molly they were immediately compelled by their compassion to consider
them. The McPartland’s related their story that when they went to their next church service after meeting Craig and
Molly, their preacher’s sermon was on giving and aiding the flood victims. They told Craig and Molly they were convicted
to give them 90% of the house contents. The Seeley’s were able to buy the house and walk in with only the clothes on
their backs, seventeen days after the crested river. They received FEMA aid and other compensations down the road, but while
other’s still struggle nineteen months later, Craig and Molly spent Christmas in their new house in 2008. The other
10% of household contents that were needed were supplied by other “angels” who freely gave to the household.
The end of October Linda made her final trip to see Bette. She took pictures of the home’s
progress and noted Bette looked very tired when she received the card and thanks from Linda. Her contact information was on
the card and Linda hoped one day to hear back from her guardian angel. Much to her joy, December 20, 2008, she received a
small package from one: Elizabeth Shaler. It was the book “Un-Natural Disasters: Iowa’s EF5 Tornado and the Historic
Floods of 2008 by Terry Swails and Carolyn S. Wettstone. There was also a KWWL-TV Channel 7 video. Who was this person? When
Linda read the enclosed card she knew. It was her FEMA friend and now she knew her last name. There was also a small-attached
card for a Christmas Blessing that “enrolled” her in remembered prayer through the year by the Franciscan Friars
and in the Novena of Masses beginning Christmas Day. Attempts to correspond were futile when there were no answers,
but Linda tried one more time when they were leaving their FEMA trailer, as it was a poignant reminder of Bette’s unprecedented
help and personal interest in Linda and her family’s recovery.
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Christmas 2009, Craig and Molly were not sure it
was appropriate to share their story as they were so blessed. Craig said, “Even local social workers are saying that
the flood exposed the economic disparities that are in this community. It made me aware how the line in the road made it easy
for people on one side, and so hard for the people on the other” Their blessings is why they stay active in advocating
for victims still displaced and who have fallen through the cracks in recovery. They pray for their neighbors who are still
in flux and hold in their hearts the day this picture and these remarks were shared. “There was a lot of help during
the clean up from FEMA, the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Church Groups from all over the Country, The Buddhist, neighbors ...
etc. I stood in the parking lot at Roosevelt Middle School with a FEMA Representative and look out over the flooded
neighborhoods and I saw a Red Cross truck driving around saying over its loud speaker "Free Hot Meals," "Free
Hot Meals!"I almost lost it as it was so surreal”. Now these memories of his old neighborhood sustain them and
they wish to thank publicly their “Angels Unaware”, both old and new. How better to give back than to become
themselves, “Angels Unaware”.
FEMA HAS ANGELS
Linda Seger encountered an angel and it impacted her life forever. This Christmas is special
not just because her large family can gather in the family’s 100 year old home, restored after the flood, but because
there is a special memory to be shared this Christmas, and every Christmas to come. “Ms. Betty got her wings.”
Ms. Seger was not alone in being overwhelmed when she walked into FEMA to “ask”
for help. It is hard enough to ask, but when you are used to being the “helper”, it’s a miserable experience.
There were times that the paper work and demands of agency rules sent victims spiraling, and Linda Seger was in one of those
times. She prayed she would get Ms. Bette, as some workers were showing signs of burnout and clearly just in a rush to push
you through. Somehow, Linda’s paperwork had become the victim of an error that stated she was appealing a decision.
She was not, had not and could not, but it was now hampering every attempt to get a FEMA payment to rebuild their home and
move out of the FEMA “Cottage” as the trailers were called. No one else had done more than listen, and what Linda
needed was action.
“Next please.” It was Ms. Bette. While Linda always tried to see her, it wasn’t
possible as you “took your turn” along with everyone else. Bette was a tall thin woman about sixty. She took time
and seemed to hang onto every word the victim said and then was meticulous with her responses. It was her eyes that validated
she was genuine, Those eyes that penetrated your last reserve of resistance, and made you trust. True to the essence of an
angel, Ms. Bette moved heaven and earth, and with a well-placed call a little higher up in the FEMA hierarchy, she was able
to get the error corrected, and within days a check arrived.
Linda explained the importance of that help,”The city had no plan yet about
rebuilding, so we started the construction. Our home was in the 500-year flood plain, structurally sound, eight blocks from
the river and we owned it. Where else would two people in their 60's find a home like this one for what we could afford? We
were too old to take on a big mortgage. We would be nearing 100 before it would be paid for. I will always credit Bette
for helping me fill out the right paperwork and send in the correct bids on the house to make the FEMA payment possible and
start our dream to return home a reality”.
The gentleman who came to accept the keys thanked them for the special care they had given
to the trailer and they signed the papers and exchanged the keys. Linda made sure she expressed thanks for all the FEMA workers.
She mentioned one worker had touched her heart in particular. The man asked for a description and immediately knew it was
Bette. He had worked other disasters with her in other locations. He shared she had been terminally ill when she was in Iowa
but insisted on continuing despite her weakened condition. Bette had died just the month before. Literally, she had worked
her heart out for the victims. Linda and the gentleman embraced in mutual grief and appreciation for a life well lived. Ms.
Bette had been there for victims; it was what she did, and she did it very well. Despite rules directing “lack of contact
and personal involvement”, Bette had reached out to Linda and touched her soul. She was now a “guardian angel”
who had walked among them as an “Angel Unaware”.
Conspiracy in the Heartland
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