US Army National Guard member comes home to flood damage
Written by Becca Habegger, Multimedia Journalist - bio | email
Lesley Voorhees points to what used to be her son's room, in the family's now-stripped-down basement.
ASBURY (KWWL) -
It will be a bittersweet homecoming Thursday evening for one University of Northern Iowa student and member of the U.S. Army National Guard.
Ken Voorhees, Jr. has been away at officer training for a month. He returns Thursday night.
Nearly two weeks ago, on the night of Sunday, June 29, a four-foot wall of flood water burst into his family's Asbury home, destroying the majority of the walk-out basement's contents.
Those contents includes Voorhees Jr.'s bedroom.
"He's serving our country and he comes home to nothing," his mom Lesley Voorhees said Thursday afternoon, tearing up. "That just devastated me more than anything, I think."
Her 21-year-old son did not have access to any phones while away at training, and the family chose not to contact him and distract him with the bad news.
On Tuesday of this week - more than a week after the flood - Voorhees Jr. got to contact his family for the first time in a month.
"He called his girlfriend first," Lesley Voorhees said. "She had to break the news to him that everything that he owned was destroyed."
The family says a city-owned culvert in their backyard can't handle heavy rains. During big storms, water backs up all the way into the house.
Lesley Voorhees said the family won't be getting any insurance money. They don't have flood insurance because their house is not in a flood plain, she said.
Although the late-June flood was the worst they've had, the Voorhees say it wasn't the first.
The family took the matter to the Asbury city council in 2011, along with their next-door neighbors. At that time, the council chose to do nothing.
The home on the other side of the culvert now sits empty. The neighbors walked away from their property after the culvert flooding problems became too much, Lesley Voorhees said.
She and her husband Ken went before the city council this week, with the support of several dozen friends and neighbors.
"I think mayor Adams said they didn't have a legal responsibility to do anything, but morally and ethically they felt like they had to do something," Lesley Voorhees recalled Thursday. "They weren't sure that the outcome would be exactly what we want it to be."
"The only one that can fix it is us," Asbury mayor Jim Adams told KWWL Thursday. "We understand that. Nobody else can come in and fix that problem. The city has to do it, if they can do it and if they will do it, and that's a decision council will have to make based on what staff can give them for options."
Adams said several options are now on the table, including widening the culvert's pipe, though he worries that will send flooding to neighbors father downstream.
Other options include buying and then tearing down the Voorhees' and their next-door neighbor's homes and building a retention basin there.
"They talked about maybe turning our lower level into a non-walk-out," Lesley Voorhees said. "I think my response to that was, 'That's laughable because it then cuts my property value in half.'"
Adams said the council has to be responsible and fair with taxpayer dollars, adding the city already has its budget set for 2015.
"The thing I've done is directed staff to identify all the situations in the city where storm water is overrunning the infrastructure," Adams said. "There's already about 12 storm water erosion control projects on the table that the Storm Water Committee is working on. I want to get anything else that potentially would fall under that domain into their hands and get it into a list so we could have 15, 16 projects vying for the money, and then the council can prioritize."
Adams said whatever route the council chooses to take, there's no quick fix for this problem.
"It's tough," he said. "To say we know how they feel would-- we can't unless we've been through it. It's just horrendous what they've been through."
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