Obama meets with Cedar Rapids flood victims

UPDATE:  Here is the first half hour of the conversation.   Here’s the first Radio Iowa story.  Here’s the second.

The venue for this meeting is the Czech Museum in Cedar Raids; it’s supposed to start at 10 o’clock.  A series of bar stools have been arranged in a half circle, to be occupied by Obama, Governor Chet Culver & locals who’ve been hit by the flooding.  The museum is situated in the Czech Village, an historic neighborhood in Cedar Rapids which was inundated by water.  Reporters and their various types of recording devices are stationed behind a rope line in the southern half of the museum’s entrance hall; Obama and crew will be in the north half. Several reporters are sitting on folding chairs.  There is a dusty marble floor under our feet, the only walls merely the studs denoting where walls will eventually be replaced. Those of us typing on our laptops fling our arms in the air every once in a while to shoo away one of the pesky flies.  The building has power, but no air conditioning. 

The Obama campaign provided the following bits of background on the folks who’ll be visiting with Obama:

Kaatherine Marcano, Mount Mercy student who works part-time and takes care of her sister, who has cerebral palsy.  Obama met Marcano during the Iowa CAucus campaign season and mentions in some speeches, as she’s unable to afford health insurance for herself and her sister. Her apartment was severely flooded; her car was ruined.  She had send her sister to the East Coast to live with relatives.

Paul & Robin Morris own the Coffee Emporium in downtown Cedar Rapids & lost everything in the store when the floods hit.  They hope to reopen the shop by October, at the latest, but fear operating costs may skyrocket as they’ve been told their utility bill will go up substantially.  The local steam heat plant which served their store was damaged significantly by the flooding.

Betty Daniels lived in her childhood home in Cedar Rapids and saw it flooded through the first flood.  She says she’s been having problems getting aide from FEMA.  She’s currently living with friends and hopes to be able to move back into her home by the first of next year.

Scott Jamieson is CEO of a Cedar Rapids non-profit agency that provides mental health counseling, consumer credit counseling and transitional housing for abused children.

Cedar Rapdis Mayor Kay Halloran and Governor Chet Culver will sit in on the discussion.  Culver just walked through the assmbly of reporters, joking about arriving early.  It’s about 9:40 — 20 minutes before the event is to start.

t 9:58 a.m. the people who were impacted by the floods walked in the museam’s entrance hall and took their sets.  The national "pool" of press walked in shortly after 10 o’clock.   Back to the flood level, there is a rather large and grand chandelier hanging in the vestibule here.  The water was so high it touched the bottom pieces of lead crystal hanging off the fixture.  Obama enters at 10:21 a.m. 

"Thanks to all of our panelists," Obama began.  "I want to just start off by making sure that everybody gets a chance to be introduced." (He introduced the folks named above)

Obama mentioned he was "actually scheduled the day the flood waters started rushing in" to be in Cedar Rapids for a town hall meeting.  He called panelist Paul Morris Scott Jamieson to send his regards that day, and Obama related that Paul Morris Jamieson had this to say at the end of that conversation on June 11:  "We’re actually filling up sandbags right now as we speak."

"Last time I was here (at the museum) we had a wonderful. event.  It looked very different than it does now  you can see that rebuilding is taking place….a testimony to the people of Cedar Rapids," Obama said.

Obama said he wants the federal government to be a "strong, swift, effective partner in dealing with these kinds of disasters."

"This obbiously is not a partisan issue," Obama said, but adding this caveat a few moments later:  "There does seem to be some disconnnect between what’s hpapheing in Washington and what’s happening on the ground."\

Jamieson said it was a Buddism "cone" (sp?) to try to figure out why the federal government is so slow to make decisions about flood-zone issues — "almost incomprehensible that a process would take this long."

The governor said the magnitude of the flood disaster hard to describe.  "This was all one huge lake, the whole metropolitan downotown area," Culver said of Cedar Rapids.  "What everyone needs to understand is this phase of the rebuilding is no different than the emergency response."

Culver recounted the immediate response to the flooding.  "We deployed more troops in Iowa since the Civil War," Culver said, , "…We cannot have the bureaucratic delays at any level…and we have tens of thousands of people in this state who are hurting…We cannot let people wait.  We have thousands of people trying to figure out where they’re going to live…but we can’t give them difinitive answers until we know what kind of support we’re going to get from the federal governmet in terms of financial assistance."

Obama directed conversation to Katherine Marcano.  "You put a real human face on what an be sort of an abstract issue here.  It sounds like you’ve been impacted fairly sigifnicantly."

"I was out of my apartment for 44 days, since June 11," Marcano said.  She had to move a wheelchair, walkers, medication, etc. for her sister and evacuated her second-floor apartment. 

There was no room for her and her disabled sister in any area hotel   Then, came a "miraculous phone call" from people who live in Marion, offering shelter for her and her sister.  "I ended up staying for about a week and a half….It was very difficult for me to go to work for almost two weeks."

Next, she praised her employer.  "My job — FedEx — if it wouldn’t have been because of them….They supported me all the way through.  I had co-workers from Des Moines that I have never met in my life sending me letters, checks…that’s how I sent my sister to the east coast…and then I came back to Cedar Rapids and I stayed with one of my girlfriends at a dorm at Kirkwood….Imagine having to wait in line to use the bathroom.  It really sucks!"

She’s now back in her apartment:  "Nothing feels better than sleeping in a bed," she said, adding the federal government should provide more help for flood victims, and indicating she’s waiting for Obama "to beomce president" so he will implement his tuition program and she can get a four-year degree. 

Next up, the coffee shop owners:  "We didn’t expect five and a half feet of water," Morris said.  "…We want to rebuild…We hope we can start over but there’s still concerns that we’ll have enough business to pay the bills."

Time to pack up… (NOTE:  reporters were allowed to sit and record/watch the exchange among the group, but not ask questions.  We were allowed to stay in the room for the first 20 minutes or so.)

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.


  1. Ned Flanders says

    Obama says “he will do everything in his power as a Senator and hopefully as president to make sure Cedar Rapids rebuilds.” And the federal government should be a “strong, swift, effective partner in dealing with state governments” during disasters. ”
    Apparently he meant after he is done campaigning for the next month.
    Kay, as the best political reporter in the state, alot of us are counting on you to hold his feet to the fire on this.

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