Iowa Dam Ruptures Under Torrential Rain
By CHRISTINA CAPECCHI, Published: July 24, 2010 in The New York Times
DELHI, Iowa — Heavy rain ruptured the Lake Delhi dam on Saturday, sending a torrent into the Maquoketa River below and forcing the evacuation of hundreds of homes and vacation cabins in eastern Iowa. Officials estimated that 8,000 people were affected by the flooding. No injuries or deaths were reported.
Unrelenting rainfall — 15 inches in the past 48 hours, according to Jeremy Sands of the Delhi Fire Department — caused the early afternoon breaching of the 83-year-old dam. “The dam wasn’t unsafe,” Firefighter Sands said. “It’s just one of those acts of God.”
A section of earth about 125 feet wide and 40 feet deep gave way, said the Delaware County emergency manager, Mike Ryan. “It’s the worst damage I’ve been associated with,” he said.
Rising waters washed out the berm, and large chunks of the road on the dam broke off. “It just peeled off eight-foot sections and dumped them,” said Shirley Helmrichs, the Delaware County supervisor. “The light poles started falling like matchsticks; they just started snapping over. You could hear this crunching, this rumbling. It was like the dam was just growling.”
The vortex on the lake side of the dam shredded boats, docks and trees, Ms. Helmrichs said. “It just took seconds to shuck them through,” she said. “From perfect to tiny crumbs.”
Ms. Helmrichs said she saw a house topple off its foundation. “It just tumbled down, slow motion, into the river,” she said. “It was just so eerie.”
At least half a dozen homes were swept away in the flood, according to another Delhi firefighter, Dennis Wilson. “There’s so much turbulence that it washes the soil away from under it, and the houses go with it,” he said. “We’ve never seen anything this wild.”
Warning sirens sounded in nearby Hopkinton, a town of 700, and Monticello, which has 3,700 residents. The waters reached thousands of acres of farmland and rose to record heights at several points.
Ms. Helmrichs estimated that 700 homes and cabins were evacuated.
The flood crested in Manchester, north of the dam, at 24.5 feet, clearing the record of 21.66 feet, set in 2004, according to Mr. Ryan, the emergency manager. “Doing disaster assessment is going to be a nightmare,” he said.
The flood became the main attraction at the Jones County Fair in Monticello, where performances by Styx and Joan Jett Saturday night were canceled.
Locals packed up and sandbagged, watching and waiting, while a sparse crowd of visitors milled through the muddy fairgrounds.
Gate attendants stopped charging admission by 4 p.m., and by 5 p.m., a booth selling $3 beer tickets was abandoned.
At the Kathy’s Kettle Corn stand, Jamey Dirks, 40, said he sold about 30 bags of popcorn when he typically would have sold 500. He put up a sign: “Boat races Sunday 1:00 p.m.”
“All the entertainment was canceled,” Mr. Dirks said. “We have to come up with something.”