Somber Lake Delhi dam break anniversary - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Somber Lake Delhi dam break anniversary

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DELAWARE COUNTY (KWWL) -

One year ago Sunday, heavy rains caused Delaware County's Lake Delhi dam to fail, sending water rushing down the Maquoketa River.

The catastrophe damaged millions of dollars' worth of personal property, in the form of homes and lakefront equipment such as boats, docks and lifts.

People could only watch as the water rushed past and the lake disappeared.

Now, one year later, the massive clean-up process is far from over, both above the dam and below it.

Tammy Gorman had wanted a house tucked away in the woods.

"It was a great little hidden spot down here that we had," she said Sunday, walking along 232nd Avenue, a street with homes situated along the Maquoketa River, just below the dam. Her brother and sister have homes there.

Gorman had moved into a brand new home there on May 1, 2010. Nearly three months later, on July 24, water came crashing through the dam, sweeping the house off its foundation and into ruin.

"I just can't believe it all happened," Gorman said. "I just can't believe it, but here it is."

"I mean, it was scary," neighbor Larry Hawker said.

He and Gorman barely escaped the neighborhood with their lives.

"I got out to go put gas in my pump at 4 o'clock in the morning and stepped out on the porch, and here come the water, just running down," Hawker said. "I mean, it came in in a hurry."

The only road out of the neighborhood was flooded, so a little after 4 a.m., with the roar of rising flood waters behind them, a group of neighbors that included Hawker and Gorman scaled the steep bluff in total darkness - to save their lives.

Mother nature claimed their homes and seems to have no intention of leaving, as houses, trailers and garages lie slanted, askew and on their sides, amid piles of mud-soaked debris, rubbish and family belongings.

Both Hawker and Gorman said they received the maximum FEMA grant of $29,500. They're relocating into homes atop the bluff.

"It's been hanging around us for a year and, yeah, it's pretty hard," Gorman said.

Recent rains and a therefore faster-flowing river wash up memories of the heavy precipitation that caused the dam break.

Tracey Dickman grew up coming to the lake and liked taking her own family for visits.

"Watching the rainfall and seeing the thunder and lightning, it's like, 'Wow, this is kind of like Deja vu,'" she said.

Dickman's parents have a cabin on 218th Avenue, which is above the dam. She's now part of a new clean-up effort.

"Sometime in the fall, they're going to kind of wait until the heat of the season is gone, and then we're just going to ask for as many man hours as we can for people to come out and just help pick stuff up out of the lake bed," she said.

Tons of debris still litter the lake bed.

"There's a dock right there. Nobody knows whose it is," Dickman said, pointing to a slightly banged-up metal structure. "Metal debris is mainly the big thing, I think, that needs to come out, like the lifts."

"The clean-up process is going to be an amazing, unbelievable task," she said. "That's what we need, is just people to volunteer and people to help us, because there isn't a whole lot of funding out there to clean it up, so it's our responsibility to get it done."

Brian Hughes is coordinating the autumn volunteer effort. He and many others want the lake bed cleaned up before any more water returns. He said he's looking for many volunteers to donate their time and possibly equipment to help clean up.

Anyone interested in lake bed or Maquoketa River cleanup can contact Hughes at bhughes6630@gmail.com.

Tracey Dickman is coordinating trash removal in the effort. Her e-mail address is tdickman@iowatelecom.net

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