George Santayana, a 20th century philosopher and novelist, once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” An in-depth dissection of history allows us to witness the moments of an historic event as they unfold. By doing so, we are able to grasp the entire story, as well as reflect upon what society has— or, in some cases, has not—learned from it.

For example, the Iowa Flood of 2008 was a pivotal event that continues to impact the lives of Eastern Iowans almost a decade later. The disaster caused billions of dollars in property damage, and life dramatically changed overnight for families and business owners alike across the state.

Our community within Cedar Rapids was gravely impacted and suffered the brunt of these effects. In 2008, as the water continued to raise, headlines read, “C.R. applies lessons learned in ’93 to handle record flooding.” Then, as water levels climbed above the mark previously set in 1993, there were new lessons to learn. The Cedar River crested on June 12, 2008 at a record height of 31 feet. When the floodwater receded, it left devastation unlike anything the city had experienced. The Cedar Rapids Gazette outlined the scope of the disaster as it reported that over 10 square miles (14 percent) of the city was impacted by floodwater, leaving over 41,000 tons of debris in its wake.

A simple search conducted within the Cedar Rapids Community History Archive tells a story in itself. For example, a search based solely on the word “flood” returns newspaper pages that convey an extensive and insightful timeline of floods throughout Iowa’s history Results surged relating to 1993, 2008 and, most recently, 2016, as communities braced for yet another“100-year flood.” Although the floods in Iowa did not reach the levels in 2016 that some initially feared, they served as additional incentive for permanent flood protection.

The articles and images on display in the Cedar Rapids Community History Archive are a harsh reminder of the ways in which the past repeats itself. A Gazette article from July 15, 1993 depicts then-President Bill Clinton touring Iowa flood damage from a helicopter, alongside a headline: “Hang in there.” A strikingly similar image appears in the June 20, 2008 issue of The Gazette, as then-President George W. Bush toured flood zones on Marine One with the headline: “We’re going to help you”.

Today, many areas affected by the 2008 flood have been rebuilt and fortified; however, other places are still coping with the fallout. The flood in 2008 is a painful memory for many Iowans. However, the event also served as a critical experience that brought the community closer together, and provided an opportunity to learn from the past as our community plans for future challenges.

Sources: City of Cedar Rapids