Like his neighbors, Jeff Van Renan was told to evacuate his Fremont County home in mid-March.
After a few days, with the help of an air boat, Van Renan returned to his home near Percival, Iowa, primarily to care for livestock and other animals left behind.
“We were gone six or seven months in 2011, and I told my wife that wasn’t happening again,” he says.
Since coming back, Van Renan has been checking on livestock ranging from horses to chickens, in addition to feeding a few cats, collecting eggs and frequently checking on his neighbors’ homes.
“I’ve probably collected 100 dozen eggs over the past three months,” he says. “I know it’s a big relief to people when I get them information on their homes. I know they like having someone here to keep an eye on things.”
Van Renan, who works for the Nebraska Public Power District, has been working from his home since coming back. Local highways are mostly closed, he says.
“People are so stressed, but hopefully the things I’m doing are helping them feel better,” Van Renan says.
That helping spirit is all over the Midwest. Keith Miller, who farms near the Mississippi River in Quincy, Illinois, saw it.
“It is neighbor helping neighbor,” he said. “It’s pretty neat to see this with so much adversity.”
In addition to the massive amounts of water and debris, two rounds of flooding have taken a toll on communities in the Missouri River’s path. Sheri Bowen, administrator for Mills County Public Health in Glenwood, Iowa, says counselors have been available at the local flood recovery center since March.
“They have been talking to residents who are having some trouble with it,” Bowen says. This includes both farm and non-farm residents.
She says there are a variety of programs available to those in flooded areas. A long-term recovery coalition has been set up in Mills County.
The town of Pacific Junction was flooded in mid-March, and homes in the community remain uninhabitable. Bowen says after two rounds of severe flooding, many residents view this as perhaps the new norm for the area.
“This is our reality, seeing the flooding happen again after the water started to go down,” Bowen says. “Some people have not been back to their homes since the first round of flooding. They’re angry, and everything is hitting them very hard. We are doing all we can to help them.”
Farmers generally remain resilient in times of disaster, says Paul Lasley, Extension sociologist with Iowa State University. He says farmers recognize the risks involved in agriculture, particularly when it comes to weather.
However, rural residents who make their living outside of agriculture may not fare as well.
“People deal better with the high intensity and short duration tragedies much easier than anything lengthy like we are seeing,” he says. “And in this case, many believe this is more of a man-made disaster, which makes it even harder.”
Lasley says small communities are affected in many areas. He says people who have lost their income source stop spending money in the communities.
“Mortgages still have to be paid, and taxes are still going to be due,” Lasley says. “Some of these people don’t have the money they need.”
He says communities hit the hardest can recover, but it will take time.
“It’s going to be a very long process,” Lasley says. “People see the amount of work ahead of them, and the prospect that this could happen again, and may not return. But there will be people who decide to stay, and that’s the start of the recovery.”