Midwest floods affect people with local ties

West Charlton native Kristy Hanley had never filled a sandbag in her life — that is until Wednesday.
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West Charlton native Kristy Hanley had never filled a sandbag in her life — that is until Wednesday.

For 21⁄2 hours the University of Iowa doctoral student and Galway High School graduate lent her hand to help save the eastern Iowa university and surrounding city from a once unimaginable onslaught.

“I never realized how hard it was,” Hanley, 29, said Friday. “I was covered head to toe in sand. The next day I could barely move.”

On Friday, she prepared to help at the school’s river-threatend library; she was to move books from the basement to upper floors.

Hanley has lived in the now-flood ravaged Iowa City while getting her Ph.D. in geology. Her apartment is believed to be safe from the rising waters, but friends’ homes are not.

She is one of a number of people with Capital Region ties living in the inundated Midwest, worrying over where the waters will go next. Among them were two recent members of the UAlbany basketball team, both hailing from Iowa.

Other Capital Region residents were preparing to go to the flood-stricken areas. Two local Red Cross volunteers were on standby, expected to get orders to head to the region, pressing the local chapter’s emergency response vehicle into service.

Floodwaters have been slowly rising throughout Iowa, Wisconsin and Indiana, as torrential rains continued to pound the region.

Authorities in Iowa City, where Hanley lives, have been ordering progressive evacuations for days as the Iowa River deluged the city. In Cedar Rapids, 30 miles north, 400 blocks were inundated as the Cedar River overflowed its banks and kept rising.

In Des Moines, the city’s namesake river threatened to overflow levees, prompting evacuations of downtown.

That news had Robbie Paine, of Schenectady, worried about her daughter, Rachel Paine Caufield.

Caufield is a professor at Drake University in Des Moines and lives near downtown. She has been on vacation in Washington for five days and plans to visit her mother in Schenectady this weekend for a retirement party.

“She’s very conflicted about being here for my retirement party and being in Des Moines with her home and dog,” Paine said of the Scotia-Glenville grad. “She’s very nervous about her house.”

For now, she’s been getting regular updates from friends.

Also hailing from the Des Moines area is Brian Lillis, a recent UAlbany grad and Great Danes basketball player. His hometown is Urbandale, just outside the city. They’ve gotten water in their basement. His parents also work in downtown Des Moines, the site of the evacuation. Their home, however, is believed to be out of further danger.

Lillis spent Friday moving his belongings from Des Moines to Chicago, to the site of his new job. He spoke via cellphone, nearing Illinois. Sections of Interstate 80 had been shut down.

“It’s unbelievable,” Lillis said. “Water is just sitting in the farmlands.”

Lillis came to UAlbany with fellow Iowan Brent Wilson, recruited for basketball.

Wilson hails from Cedar Rapids. He could not be reached Friday, Lillis believed the family was also returning from a vacation. He was unsure of the status of their home.

Ready to go to the region Friday were two local volunteers of the Red Cross, one of them Richard Alexander of Wynantskill.

A retired state worker, Alexander was making sure the organization’s emergency response vehicle was ready to go and making sure he was ready to go, as well.

The vehicle is used to carry and distribute supplies, including clean-up kits and comfort kits. It also can serve meals, up to 1,500 in a day.

Alexander said they were looking at a possible Tuesday deployment, though the details haven’t been worked out.

Alexander’s first deployment came in 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He spent several weeks in the Biloxi area. He called the experience life altering.

“When you see things on television, you turn the TV off and you don’t see it anymore,” Alexander said. “You get there, and it’s really a very, very different image.”

West Charlton’s Hanley expects to graduate with her doctorate in geology in December. She already has a job lined up in Houston.

But, for now, she’s in Iowa City. She’s called her mom here almost every day with updates.

Hanley said of her mother, “She just said to stay out of the water.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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