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Facebook informs, organizes flood victims

As the southwest Iowa town of Hamburg braces for a flood expected to cause major damage there, residents are turning to Facebook to find -- and offer -- help.

My husband grew up in Hamburg, my mother-in-law still lives just east of town (away from the flood threat), and we spend a lot of time there. One of our favorite summertime activities is floating down the Nishnabotna River -- which runs on the east side of Hamburg -- with our friends.

Ever since the talk of flooding began, it has been a popular topic of conversation on Facebook. Now that the rising waters draw nearer to Hamburg, and area residents are packing up and heading for higher ground, they're using social media to try and help each other, and to stay on top of the latest updates.

The news is changing fast in Hamburg. From worst-case-scenario predictions of 10 feet of water on the flagpole in the middle of Main Street (about four miles east of the Missouri River), to updates that the Army Corps of Engineers is mounting an effort to save the town by adding to and repairing levees. Different sections of town have been evacuated. Certain roads are closed. Natural gas has been shut off in town.

Iowa State University Fremont County Extension has launched a Facebook community page entitled "2011 Fremont County, IA Flood Support". Before information is posted, it is double and triple checked through Fremont County and City of Hamburg personnel. Other counties affected by flooding are creating Facebook groups as well.

The Fremont County page is a one-stop shop for flooding information, forecasts and Army Corps of Engineers reports, road closings, and shelter information. It is also proving to be very useful in organizing people. Events like sandbagging and helping the owners of the town motel evacuate are listed, and drop-off points for donations are also offered. Members can subscribe to receive text updates from the page.

Residents are also asking for -- and offering -- help on an individual basis:

  • "If anyone needs to park trailers, vehicles, etc., we have an empty lot behind our house," writes Amber D.
  • "I am available to help Monday and Tuesday and have a truck to help move anyone that needs it," offers Leslie H.
  • Rhesa L. offered a vacant house in a nearby town for storage.
  • "I will offer daycare to children of families who need to pack and move," says Angie W.
  • Tera L. offered a shaded lot in a nearby town for evacuated residents to park their campers and stay, free of charge.
  • Michele F. posted an offer to temporarily house and care for dogs in her kennel.

Hamburg City Clerk Sheryl Owen is also making the most of this page. She has posted information on needs and news, and has asked residents evacuating the town to let her know where they are going.

The page also serves as an information clearinghouse for former Hamburg residents and people who have loved ones living there. Clifford G. echoes many posts with his message on the page: "God be with the victims, the workers and their families!"

Photo: Sand levees are being built around downtown Hamburg. Photo courtesy of Hughie Hayes.

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