Floodwaters force 100s to evacuate New Hartford

NEW HARTFORD – Even as he rowed his flat-bottom aluminum boat down New Hartford’s Main Street, Jim Johnson didn’t seem especially concerned Tuesday about the flooding that had inundated his small northeast Iowa town.

Much of New Hartford’s 500-plus residents had been evacuated before dawn, but those who remained and others in a nearby evacuation shelter took the flooding and damage in stride.

“I have about 8 inches of water in my basement,” said Johnson, 49. “I usually stay until everything is lost.”

The flooding was due to more than 7 inches of rain that pounded the area Monday. The rainwater poured into Beaver Creek, turning a stream normally a couple feet deep into a fast-moving river that is far over its banks.

Authorities responded by notifying residents of the danger via a telephone emergency system on Monday night, and then issuing an evacuation warning early Tuesday. Up to 50 emergency workers, sheriff’s deputies and firefighters went door to door starting at 3 a.m. and helped townspeople flee before the water got too high and when boats and high-centered vehicles would have been required for rescues.

Nordmeyer estimated about a third of New Hartford’s residents remained, but the town was largely silent by afternoon. At one point, the water reached about 3 feet deep on the east side of town, and floodwaters poured into the west side of town as well. The creek topped a levy that surrounds the town on the east side near the elementary school, Nordmeyer said.

Residents said they took the danger seriously, but they’d seen Beaver Creek surge out of its banks before, including a devastating flood in 2008 that swamped the community with 4 feet or more of water. After that flood, many residents raised their homes when they rebuilt to better withstand future flooding.

“I’ve seen it a lot worse,” said Sue Ragsdale, 60, who evacuated her home in the early hours but returned later in the day. She found a flooded barn but a dry home.

Ragsdale’s home was severely damaged by flooding in 2008, and she rebuilt and raised her home.

Still, she heeded the warning from officials and moved her livestock and dogs away from the potential flooding, then stayed with family nearby for a few hours.

“It’s something you’re used to when you live in New Hartford,” she said.