Blog note. Jesus indicated
that ‘fearful sights’ (various natural disasters) would occur leading up to the
time known as the Tribulation and Great Tribulation (a combined seven year
period of great destruction on earth). Although these types of things have
occurred in the past for centuries and thousands of years, they could be
identified as the ‘season of the times’ due to the ferociousness of these
events. They would be occurring in greater intensity, severity, frequency,
size, duration, scope … just like the pains that a woman experiences in labor
the farther along she is in the labor process. We are in the ‘season of the
times’ that comes just before the seven (7) year Tribulation/Great Tribulation
… And great earthquakes shall be in diverse places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven. (Luke 21:11).
… And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; (Luke 21:25)
… Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken; (Luke 21:26)
… This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. (2 Timothy 3:1)
Jesus is giving a series of prophecies about what to look for as the age of grace comes to a close. These verses are several of many such prophecies from throughout the Bible. 2017 was the worst year in recorded history for the intensity, frequency, severity, duration and occurrence of a large number of severe natural disasters worldwide. Earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, typhoons, cyclones, torrential flooding, unprecedented wildfires in unusual places, devastating droughts, excessive/scorching heat setting records everywhere, record snowfalls in Europe and Russia. Snow in the Arabia. This list can go on. Most studied Eschatologists believe these ‘fearful sights’ and massive natural disasters are all part of the ‘CONVERGENCE’ of signs that this Biblical and prophetic age is closing. Most people who study prophecy are familiar with the routine reference(s) made that these things will be like a woman having labor.
Some Iowa towns have been underwater for weeks. The big question: Will residents come back?
Kevin Hardy. USA TODAY•April 30, 2019
PACIFIC JUNCTION, Ia. — Mary Manchester clutched a pair of sopping, violet bath towels appreciatively and hung them on the clothesline out back, hoping to salvage anything from the wreckage.
Inside her two-bedroom, two-bathroom mobile home, her husband dragged appliances, clothing and knickknacks to the curb. Her popup camper was lodged in the mud several blocks away.
“It’s a total loss,” she said of the home she’s lived in since 1993.
Manchester’s home and every one of the 200 structures in the tiny town of Pacific Junction spent weeks underwater after floodwaters from the Missouri River bombarded the community in March. Because of the town’s unique geography — the mayor frequently calls his hamlet a “bowl” — the water had no natural route to recede. That left homes, city hall and the post office festering in a soup of brown river water for a month.
Now that residents of Pacific Junction, population 395, have started to assess and clean up the damage, they’re left with major decisions. Here and in flooded towns across southwest Iowa, many residents said they remain committed to rebuilding. But their resiliency will be tested — both by projected changes in weather patterns and by the decades-long drip of rural decline.
As rural Iowa communities have bled population, businesses have closed and schools consolidated. More than two-thirds of Iowa counties lost population over the past eight years. For people who want to stay, a dearth of housing in rural Iowa complicates the search for short-term accommodations.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds highlighted those concerns when she called for a new approach to river management in late March. She said rural communities were “fighting every day” for survival and cannot bear repeated flooding.
“Pretty soon people aren’t going to come back,” Reynolds said. “If they’re going to face this every eight years, people are going to say, ‘I can’t continue to do this.'”
Disasters like tornadoes often damage a limited geographic area, said Brian Depew, executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs.
“And what’s different here is that we have a natural disaster on a widespread geographic scale,” he said. “It’s more like what they see on the coast with hurricanes.”
Likewise, floods often portend future floods. And with the growing threat of extreme weather from climate change, the recent disaster casts doubt on the ability of flood-prone communities to cope.
“It’s happened in the past, and some of it could even happen again this year,” Depew said. “I think maybe even a bigger risk than this flooding event is the risk of repeat events in the future and the risk that these sorts of weather events may become more common.”
For Manchester, 58, that reality has made her decision even more wrenching.
Standing in her front yard, she looks around her savaged neighborhood and remembers the route she walked as a child to the town’s now-shuttered brick schoolhouse.
Her heart transports her to those cherished memories, but her head brings her back to reality. All she hears from neighbors are their plans to flee. Her sister, who lived across the street, has decided to call it quits.
“I did love the town or else I wouldn’t be here,” she said. But, “if you’re going to start over, you don’t want to start over in the same town that might flood again.”
‘A lot of people that wanted to leave these towns already left’
Pacific Junction is an old railroad town, established in 1871 as a meeting point of several lines. Decades ago, the railroad boom supported a farm implement dealer, drug store and grocery store.
But trains no longer stop here.
BNSF railroad locomotives still travel the two routes that slice through the heart of town. Each day, some 65 trains carrying coal from the Mountain West to the East Coast speed through.
Pacific Junction’s population peaked more than a century ago. While it’s small, the town has impressed researchers at Iowa State University who mark it among 99 Iowa “shrink-smart” communities — towns that have thrived even amid population decline.
David Peters, the ISU sociologist behind the research, says Pacific Junction benefits from its proximity to the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro area. And like Hamburg, Pacific Junction touts strong levels of social capital — the relationships between locals that he says are a fundamental requirement for recovery.
In researching the 1993 floods, Peters found that communities with weaker social ties tended to “wither and die” after a natural disaster.
“You have a large shock of people leaving right after the disaster,” he said, “and over time they wither away because no one’s willing to invest money.”
He doesn’t expect that to happen in Pacific Junction or Hamburg.
“The flood may push some people that were sort of on the fence about staying,” Peters said. “But a lot of people that wanted to leave these towns already left over the last 20 years.”
Peters said those who stay in western Iowa must think “radically different” about how they rebuild.
“If you’re simply going to rebuild what was there before but just make the levees higher, I’m not sure that makes you more resilient,” he said. “These floods keep getting worse and worse. Are you going to continually rebuild the levees higher and higher?”
‘It’s really not as bad as people thought’
With the smell of manure ripe in the warm spring air, Pacific Junction Mayor Andy Young runs around town in his maroon pickup, checking on pumps, directing volunteers and answering a litany of phone calls.
The owner of a construction firm by trade, the flood grew to something of a full-time job as Young put his business aside to keep his tiny town afloat.
Around town, a thin film of gray mud curling under the sun covers just about any surface not littered with decaying corn stalks.
“It’s really not as bad as people thought,” Young said of neighbors’ reactions when returning home for the first time. Many were surprised to find only a meager layer of dirt rather than piles of sludge.
Still, the sheer volume of water that occupied the city limits is apparent everywhere. On a white cottage home, several filthy yellow lines mark water levels the way parents track a child’s growth over the years. The first line appears about 18 inches off the ground, another rests at about 3 feet, and the highest point hits near the eaves at about 8 feet.
Pacific Junction is not in a 100-year flood plain, the zones that mandate flood insurance for many homeowners. And even after an overwhelming flood, Young thinks such destruction is unlikely to hit here again.
“You could play what-ifs forever,” he said.
And Young believes the town will bounce back.
An informal survey of 100 flood victims conducted by the local chamber of commerce found that 10% planned to leave. Half were undecided, and 40% were committed to rebuilding.
“We understand it’s a deeply personal decision,” Rachel Reis, executive director of the Glenwood Area Chamber of Commerce, said at a meeting Wednesday night with about 300 residents who questioned state, local and federal officials about rebuilding — and leaving.
In a county of about 15,000 people, each resident matters.
“What does it say about us if we don’t step up and rebuild our community?” Reis said after the meeting. “We’re only as strong as each town that we have in our county.”
The mayor acknowledges that floods may dislocate some newcomers and many of those living in mobile homes — of about 200 water connections in town, more than 45 connect to mobile homes. And research from Iowa State shows that social ties in the community, while still extensive, have “greatly diminished” over the past two decades.
But Young remains bullish. Cruising around town, he sees sons and daughters coming home to help their parents clean the mess. Volunteers separate debris into piles. In one driveway, a couple pauses for late afternoon Busch Lights, the water still standing over the ankles of their muck boots.
“I’m just hoping that they come back and we rebuild as a community,” Young said. “That’s about all we can do.”
‘We’ve had enough floods’
In Hamburg, Melanie Finnell slides around on a four-wheeled cart as she scrapes away the filmy layer of greasy mud that lines everything in her metal building on Main Street.
“I’ve done it three times, and my husband went over it with an ice scraper first,” she said as she crouched low to the floor in rubber boots, pink pajama pants and a waiter’s apron filled with tools, “and it’s still tacky and nasty.”
The shop houses a collection of classic cars, including a four-door Chrysler DeSoto and a 1963 Chevy Mustang. Finnell, 66, together with her 78-year-old husband, owns an antique store just down the street, along with several buildings full of the family’s collection.
None of Finnells’ property was insured — she said flood insurance is too expensive in the section of town that lies in the flood plain. Her family plans to walk away from the business and Hamburg altogether.
She plans to sell off everything in the next two years.
“We’ve had enough floods,” she said. “We’re not starting all over again.”
Every family that flees the flood zone will exacerbate decades’ worth of rural decline in Iowa.
U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, whose 16-county district includes much of the flooded area, said small towns can ill afford to lose people now. While she’s seen overwhelming resiliency, she said she is worried about the lasting impact on the population.
“If we don’t find an opportunity to help these folks, we absolutely could be looking at communities that might not be able to make it back,” Axne, a Democrat from West Des Moines, said in an interview. “We need to keep people in these communities so their kids continue to go to school there, so they can continue visiting what businesses remain.”
After the 2011 floods, Glenwood Community Schools saw its student body decline by 153 students in eight weeks’ time. The school system had a total enrollment of 2,234 during the 2010-11 school year.
This year, the school system is working to retain the 139 students who live in Pacific Junction or unincorporated areas surrounding the town. Superintendent Devin Embray said most flood victims are staying with family and friends and struggling to find long-term accommodations amid a widespread shortage of rural housing.
“Every one of those families has been displaced,” Embray said. “We’re anticipating if we can’t help families figure out options in the next few months that they’re probably going to leave us for other places where they can get housing.”
‘Southwest Iowa people are tough’
Inside the Mills County Storehouse, Barbara Kaiman checks on bananas in the food pantry for one flood victim and rummages through a rack of used pants to help someone else find a pair that will fit.
“Oh, this is dead today,” she said as she sped through the bustling nonprofit in Glenwood.
Over the years, Kaiman, who leads fundraising and publicity efforts for Storehouse, has learned that people like when you remember their names. But in times like these, it’s even better to remember their baby’s diaper size or whether they’re living in a camper with a kitchen or a motel with a tiny microwave and minifridge.
“They don’t need to tell you their story again,” she said. “They need you to remember.”
She spots one Pacific Junction man at the front door and tells him about the new supply of yellow muck boots that just arrived.
“They look like you,” she joked.
“I’m going to need them if I ever get back in,” he said.
A retired nurse, Kaiman said her neighbors in Pacific Junction seemed to be moving through the five stages of grief. But even amid the pain, she’s seen nothing but resolve.
“There’s a mentality that says our families lived in this place for five generations. We’re PJ people,” she said. “Southwest Iowa people are tough.”
The Storehouse has pumped out food for more than 70,000 meals since the floods. Kaiman has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support. One morning, she asked for Crock-Pot donations on Facebook. By noon, she had 40.
“We’ve had all kinds of floods here — floods of water, floods of kindness, floods of goodness,” she said.
‘This is our community. We’re not leaving it.’
Such generosity is plainly needed here. But it’s still difficult to accept for people like Tammy Huit, who said she’s worked hard her whole life and never accepted a handout.
“We will only take what we need,” she said.
Before the flood, she lived in unincorporated Pacific Junction on a big lot next to her brother and his family. Her son and four nephews grew up like brothers, touring around on ATVs between the two homes.
“It was our own little community,” she said.
But that community was washed away with everything else. At first, Huit and her family were committed to returning home and rebuilding. But she’s worried she will never feel safe at home, where her view includes two breached levees that ushered in the flood water.
Huit’s brother and sister-in-law are housed at the Arthur Hotel in Glenwood, where the lobby serves as a makeshift living room for displaced families. They’re looking for housing in Glenwood and farther away in Council Bluffs.
Huit and her immediate family are staying in a 35-foot camper they purchased after the flood.
“I never want to go camping again,” Huit said.
For now, she’s waiting. It took a month to even get to the rural road where her family lives. It took another four days to get inside the home, but the water still reached up to her knees.
Standing on the road outside her home, she came to realize that nothing in her home, even the bones of the structure, would be salvageable. But she still wants to find a way to stay in the area and dreams of living next door to the rest of her family soon.
“This is our community,” she said. “We’re not leaving it.”