Bad Weather Strikes Midwestern Main Streets

Download Main Street News PDF - 2008/06

Heavy rains, severe thunderstorms, and tornados have swept through Main Street communities across the nation, leaving those in the Midwestern United States especially hard hit. Even this early in the summer season, flooding has affected Main Street communities in Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri.

In Iowa, several Main Street communities, including Waverly, Elkader, Charles City, and Waterloo, have been hit with severe flood damage. The Main Street communities of Cedar Falls, Mason City, Corning, and Story City also suffered localized flooding, but were not significantly damaged when compared with the other communities. 

"Now the floodwaters are heading straight to our Main Street communities of Ottumwa, Bonaparte, Burlington, and Keokuk. It is expected to crest later this week and leave the state to cause further damage in Illinois and Missouri," said Thom Guzman, Director of the Iowa Downtown Resource Center, on June 17th. "We are in constant communication with our towns.  They have prepared as much as they can and are now hoping for the best." 

"My team has been dispatched to Waverly, Elkader, Waterloo, and Charles City to assist in the recovery efforts," said Guzman. "One lesson we learned during the floods of 1993 was the huge amount of emotional support the state staff provided by showing up in flood-impacted Main Street towns and physically helping them with flood-related cleanup. There is only so much we can do in a day or two in each town, but the fact that we showed up and helped them motivated them to continue their efforts." 

"The real challenges will be twofold," noted Guzman, "providing timely business assistance to Main Street business owners after the cleanup, and working with property owners whose buildings have been significantly damaged and don't know how to proceed. We must be very proactive so that these buildings do not meet the wrecking ball." 

According to Guzman, this year's floods are very different from the floods of 1993: "This time around, thousands of homes were flooded as were scores of historic downtowns.  In 1993, flooding did not impact housing nor as many historic downtowns as it did this time. In both cases, thousands of acres of farmland were flooded. They will not be able to produce a crop this season which means even higher corn and soybean prices nationally."

Help from the National Trust

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is responding to the flooding in a number of ways. The Midwest Office of the National Trust has convened an Iowa Flood Response Coalition comprised of the Iowa State Historic Preservation Office; the Iowa Historic Preservation Alliance; the Iowa Downtown Resource Center (Main Street Iowa); Brucemore, the National Trust Historic Site in Cedar Rapids; the Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area; the Iowa Cultural Coalition; and the 1000 Friends of Iowa. Working together, these groups are helping people across Iowa to preserve the numerous historic sites and cultural institutions that have been damaged by flood waters.

The National Trust and its partners are making available a series of publications to help people assess and respond to damage to their property. The publications — geared toward owners of homes and businesses and available for free at — provide a wealth of practical tools and expertise from a variety of organizations with decades of experience in a range of natural disasters — including mold remediation of historic structures, tips for working with FEMA, and practical how-to guides for preserving family photos and other cherished keepsakes.

Brucemore, a National Trust Historic Site, is playing a pivotal role in Cedar Rapids' recovery efforts. Focusing first on assisting museums, cultural attractions, community organizations with archival materials, and owners of buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places, Brucemore is working with the National Trust to assemble teams of curators, conservators, architects, and engineers who specialize in disaster recovery. The site is also making the Garden House available as a preservation headquarters for these assistance teams. 

Richard Moe, President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said the National Trust was committed to working with its local partners to get information out to flood victims.

"The record-breaking floods across the Midwest have not only affected the lives and livelihoods of countless people; they have also destroyed or damaged numerous cultural institutions, public buildings, rural landscapes, and historic districts," said Moe. "We know from working on the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina that one of the things people need most during difficult times like this is good information. I hope that people will visit the website and use the information there to help them move forward with the recovery process." 

The National Trust Main Street Center is planning to provide technical assistance to
flood-affected communities a little later this summer after the immediate recovery response. "We are saddened to see so many outstanding Main Street communities affected and are working with the National Trust Midwest regional office to provide follow-up support and training that will address the immediate needs of programs and businesses to rebuild and restart," said Doug Loescher, director of the National Trust Main Street Center. 

Repairing the Damage

In Wisconsin, which also experienced flooding, Joe Lawniczak, design specialist for Wisconsin Main Street, urged Main Street executive directors to tell building owners not to settle with insurance companies prematurely but to make sure they had accurate estimates for repairing the flood damage. 

"I also suggested they remind their property owners not to be hasty in demolishing buildings or elements of buildings because many of these elements can be repaired and cleaned and most likely for cheaper than replacing them," said Lawniczak.

According to J.D. Milburn, Small Business Specialist for Wisconsin Main Street, it is important to advise business owners that when it comes to business, real estate, (business) contents, and working capital, the relief money comes from the Small Business Administration (SBA), not the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The SBA provides instant loan funds for all kinds of needs. The SBA will put the money in the business owner's hands and use insurance proceeds as repayment. Funds are loaned out with very liberal repayment terms and a 4 percent interest rate; they can be used to find a temporary location, replace inventory, rehab a damaged building, and all kinds of other needs. When the official disaster declaration is issued, it's important to know your disaster declaration number. A business should make sure it has multiple copies of three years of tax returns with all schedules in a safe place.

SBA's Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) is the main program that distributes funds to those in need. The other SBA program is the Physical Disaster Loan, which has a special feature allowing an extra 20 percent to protect damaged real or leasehold property against future disasters of the same type.

The key is to apply. Most business owners don't.  If businesses don't receive cash in the first four to five days and start back in business right away, then the probability of permanent closure rises substantially.


Main Street Flood Relief Resources:

National Trust for Historic Preservation Flood Resources:

The North Dakota State University Extension Service "Coping with Disasters" web page:

The EPA's "A Brief Guide to Mold and Moisture in your Home":

SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans:

SBA Physical Disaster Loans: