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Floodwater Forces Homeowners To Campgrounds

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By Joel Stevens, Associate Editor

As waters rise and warnings persist that flooding is still imminent in and around Mills County, displaced residents are seeking out alternative living spaces.

    About a dozen of those displaced homeowners have taken up residence in Mills County’s campgrounds.
    Sheri Bowen, public information officer for Mills County and administrator of Mills County Public Health, said residents from Mills and Pottawattamie counties have been moving into campground spots in Pony Creek Park, Glenwood Lake Park and Waubonsie State Park since early June.
    As of July 1, according to Bowen, nine displaced families were calling Glenwood Lake Park home, at least temporarily. Among them are Clint and Kari Oliphant.
    Heeding warnings their property along 195th Street stood to get potentially 10 feet of water if the Missouri River levee were to break, the Oliphants packed up and moved out. They paid to have their 1,900-square-foot modular home divided and transported to higher ground. They borrowed a 32-foot, fifth-wheel camper from Kari’s parents, Roger and Cyndy Sell, and moved  in with their two children, Shelby, 17, and Zach, 11. They also have a dog.
    That was nearly two months ago. The Oliphants, like many displaced families, live in a sort of home limbo. No one knows how long before they will be able to go home, and yet, there’s no water currently on their land.
    “But we’re a mile north of Folsom Lake and another man-made lake that have started to creep up into the field next to us,” Kari said. “We hear if the levee doesn’t break, we’ll be fine. If it breaks and the water is there, our property is where it will go.”
    Clint grew up in the area, his land has been in his family for nearly 200 years. His parents also own a home in the area that was flooded during the 1952 floods. He can recall it flooding in late 1970s but not quite like this, he said. They weren't taking any chances.
    “We were in a spot where they told us we could get 10 feet of water. We still owe 17 years on it (the home) and we don’t have flood insurance,” said Clint. “We’re just lucky we had the ability to physically move our home. A lot of people don’t have that option.”
    Sue Fichter and husband Len are avid campers. But since their home in Bartlett flooded in June and they were forced out, they too took up residence in Glenwood Lake Park.
    “We’re campers anyway, but it’s different when you’re camping all the time. It’s not a vacation now, it’s sort of home,” she said.
    The sense of community in the small enclave at the park has eased the transition, even if the uncertainty of how long they will be there hasn’t.
    “They make you feel at home,” Fichter said of the campground. “Everybody who’s there has been accommodating and they seem to care about other people. The kids play with each other and go fishing. It’s been a nice place to stay.”
    Kari Oliphant agrees. Evenings at the park bring out the temporary residents. Some nights it resembles a little community, not as much a village of depressed evacuees.
    “Everybody gets along. We’re all kind of in the same boat so we talk about that and what we’ve heard (about the flooding),” Kari said. 
    Bowen’s agency has referred services to the temporary residents and the Behavior Health Intervention Team has visited the campgrounds around the county to offer services and discuss counseling and stress related concerns.
    “I think people are in various places right now, psychologically,” Bowen said. “Some people have children, so they’re existing in very small spaces and this is getting to be a long time. We have some people that are just sleeping there at night. So there’s a wide range (of people), but they’re all just trying to find answers and resources to get through this time and go back to their homes, if there’s a home to go back to.”
    Bowen said Mills County does not currently qualify for any FEMA funds because not enough homes in the county have been determined to have “major damage.”
    “We have lots of homes that are affected or have minor damage but we don’t meet that FEMA criteria,” Bowen added.
    The Iowa Department of Health and Human Services, the West Central Development Corporation and Mills County all offer assistance programs for residents to help with rent or expenses. Campground pad rent is $350 a month for full hook ups, and $288 for limited hook ups.
    Just last Thursday, Bowen said, Mills County was approved for the state individual assistance program that will allow financially qualified property owners in a flood area access to $5,000 in assistance.
    “It’s pretty specific what it will pay for, but there are a lot of categories it will cover,” Bowen said. “We’re still working out the details but we hope to be able to get that information and the applications out soon through our office and the county auditor’s office.”
    Bowen said AmeriCorps volunteers will also be out in the community over the next week meeting with displaced residents to identify resources and identify needs.
    “We want to know what’s needed and where they can get that help,” she added.
    For the time being, both the Fichters and the Oliphants wait.
    Kari said going from a 1,900-square-feet home to a 320-square-foot trailer with two kids and a dog hasn’t been easy, but they make do.
    “We’re thankful to have my mom and dad here,” she said. “They’ve been very helpful. If we need a little break Shelby will go stay there or Zach will. We do our laundry there. We have just had such an outpouring of support. The town of Glenwood  is amazing. We have had so many friends and family and people we don’t even know that well that have offered to help. It’s been incredible. We manage. We try to keep a routine and that helps.”
    Both families worry about the influx of other campers along with the expected arrivals of 15,000 to 20,000 bicyclists with RAGBRAI starting in Glenwood next week. They've been told by park management they may stay in their spots but to expect big crowds and lots of traffic.
    “We've both grown up here our whole lives. We kind of know what it's going to be like. We'll make some adjustments, maybe park the cars somewhere else, but we'll get by,” Kari said. “We've learned how to adjust.”