Dubuque County marks anniversary of floods - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Dubuque County marks anniversary of floods

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A Dubuque couple's home burned while surrounded by raging floodwater A Dubuque couple's home burned while surrounded by raging floodwater
DUBUQUE (KWWL) -

One year ago, Dubuque and the tri-state area weathered an unprecedented rain and flash flooding event that left millions of dollars of damage in its wake and two people dead.

If you didn't witness it firsthand, it's hard to imagine.

In one of the most visually stunning scenes of that night, floodwater overwhelmed Ed and Jan Biedermann's Dubuque home, but the house caught on fire when the couple went to the garage and got in their truck to escape.

"He hit the ignition, and instead of hearing the 'whirrr' of it starting, you just heard this 'pop,' and then the flames shot up over the hood," Jan Biedermann said.

The Dubuque Fire Department was on the scene that night and investigated the aftermath.

"The most probable cause on that was that a gas can probably tipped over from the water coming up," Dubuque fire chief Dan Brown said. "The water was probably around knee-deep when they got in the pickup truck and started it, and then there was the ignition source from something in the car: the starter or the alternator or something like that."

Raging floodwater surrounding the house kept firefighters from entering the structure.

"We did set up a fire engine there pumping and hooked up to a hydrant, and they actually had to unhook and backup because the water was coming up," Brown said.

"The force of it-- You just can't believe what water like that can do," Ed Biedermann said. "We watched it burn. Burn for probably three hours...Basically, we got out of there with the clothes on our back, and that was it."

All through the night, officials responded non-stop to everything from lightning strikes and fires to stranded motorists and washed-out roads.

"It was just incredible to see and it just kept raining and kept lightning and thunder, of course," Brown said. "You know, you sit there and you go, 'Is this thing going to end at some point?'"

The overnight hours between July 27 and 28, 2011, presented an all-hands-on-deck situation for area officials.

"It's kind of ironic that we're sitting here in a drought this year, and a year ago, you know, we'd like to have just a couple of those inches right now, wouldn't we?" Brown said.

FEMA issued a disaster declaration for Dubuque and Jackson counties. It offered public assistance to cities, county agencies and school districts, but there was no FEMA assistance for individual homeowners affected by the flood.

Project Concern distributed to flood victims a combined total of more than $750,000, between state and local funds.

Money, of course, can't buy closure. One year later, the charred remains of the Biedermanns' home stand as a stark reminder of the night they nearly lost their lives.

"I've had people tell me that we had bad luck," Ed Biedermann said. "I look at them and say, 'No, we had good luck. It could've been a lot worse. We might not have got out of there alive.'"

The Biedermanns have had to wait to demolish their burned house until the details of FEMA funds are worked out.

Project Concern in Dubuque fielded nearly 500 reports of damage, totaling an estimated $8 million to $10 million.

The floods claimed two lives. Those people drowned in Jo Daviess County, Ill.

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