UI to help protect against flooding in the south

BY JON FRANK | MAY 09, 2011 7:20 AM

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When destructive flooding engulfed Iowa City and the University of Iowa campus in 2008, officials said, a number of Southern states were some of the first to send help. And now, the UI has a chance to return the favor.

Over the weekend, the UI agreed to send 132 pallets of flood-barrier protection south after the Louisiana company HESCO contacted UI Facilities Management with an appeal for help.

HESCO officials said it became apparent they would not be able to meet Louisiana's high demand for flood-protection supplies in the face of massive flooding. The UI sent 11,800 feet of stockpiled barriers — collapsible wire-mesh framing filled with gravel or dirt.

Because Iowa only faces a 2 to 3 percent chance of reaching moderate flood conditions this season, officials said they were able to spare the materials. But the aid is also indicative of Iowa's larger ability to help other communities with flood-related issues.

In the spring of 2009, the state established the Iowa Flood Center at the UI in response to the flooding in 2008. The group of researchers works to prepare information and help other communities prepare for floods. Though the center has aided mainly Iowa cities so far, there is a greater need, officials said.

Witold Krajewski, the director of the Flood Center, said he would like to see more national research conducted to help contend with future flooding issues.

"We recognize there is a need for a national center," he said.

Emphasizing the role the federal government plays in flood relief, Krajewski specifically called for a national center to "engage the academic community."

In the meantime, the UI will be able to aid Louisiana with backup supplies.

Jared Lyons, the director of accounting and finance for HESCO, said the UI's contribution will account for approximately 5 percent of what will be needed. Lyons said the shortfall occurred in part because Louisiana rarely floods and the state was not prepared.

"It takes a little bit of time for suppliers like us and our suppliers to get geared up," he said.

HESCO promised to replenish the UI's supply within three weeks, said Dan Heater, the director of building and landscape services for UI Facilities Management.

The accumulation of flood-protection walls came following the 2008 flood, because officials wanted to make sure they were prepared for a natural disaster of the same magnitude.

"We understand the situation, and we wanted to help," said UI spokesman Tom Moore.

John Barry, the vice president of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority described the state's current natural disaster as "the biggest flood since [1927]," one of the most destructive river floods in U.S. history.

"It's not entirely clear to me whether there will be any flooding that's not part of the plan," said Barry, but that was no comfort for the residents who will be forced to evacuate their homes.

The materials sent south by the UI are used primarily to contend with low points in levees, Barry said. For now, it does not appear Louisiana will need to use the makeshift barriers.

"The flood should not overtop any of the main line levees," he said. "[But] we appreciate that that's available."

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