ONLY IN THE WORLD-HERALD
MISSOURI VALLEY, Iowa — Melba Struble closes her eyes and sees her oak furniture and cabinets neatly decorated, a display room carefully dusted and pictures of her children adding warmth to her walls.
Then she opens her eyes and sees nothing but a card table and chairs surrounded by the daffodil-yellow walls she repainted only a few years ago.
The repainting was just a small part of the work Struble and her husband, Sherman Struble, went through to rebuild their home after the Missouri River flooded them out in 2007.
After the flood, they waited months for the saturated structure to dry, made frequent visits to the local offices of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and went through mentally exhausting financial planning.
Eventually, it was time to paint.
She dipped her brush into that cheerful daffodil yellow and painted words of inspiration on the wall.
“Love,” Respect,” Patience,” she spelled out.
You can't see them now on the yellow walls. But Struble knows they are there.
After losing not only her old walls but her floors, furniture and personal belongings in the flood, those words served as a reminder to be grateful for what she had recovered – the “pretty” house she was able to re-create.
“It really was beautiful, I've got to tell you,” she said.
Melba Struble, 69, and Sherman Struble, 74, bought this spacious two-level home for $3,200 in 1965, furniture and all. For the next 42 years they raised their children, hosted family gatherings and planted an immaculate flower garden.
But like the house, the flower garden is now nearly bare.
And the Strubles are bracing once more.
Four years after their first flood tragedy, the Strubles are preparing for another possible evacuation. Officials have estimated that two to four feet of water could reach their home as the Missouri River continues to swell.
They are taking every precaution, packing everything that can be packed. As flood veterans, they don't live in denial.
“For me, I have to feel like I'm doing everything I can,” Melba said.
The waiting period is the biggest difference between this flood and the last, she said.
In 2007, the Willow Creek levee six miles north of town gave way to a rush of water that nearly knocked some people over when they opened their doors.
This year's slow-moving monster has given the Strubles the ability to plan.
“We went into flood mode real quick,” Melba said. “It's a survival, no-nonsense, get-'er-done type of thing.”
The Strubles' daughter from Indianapolis and daughter-in-law from Omaha helped pack the couple's belongings into two pods. Tables. Chests. Airplane collectibles.
They removed everything but a pickup load's worth of belongings; their bed, television and refrigerator are all that remain.
In 2007 the Strubles had no time to move their belongings. Even clothes and keys were left behind when they evacuated.
The floodwater stood half the height of their home for more than a week. The murky water stayed for days. The stench lasted longer.
Seventy-three families were forced out of their homes, and four houses eventually were demolished. In the end, the flood's damage in western Iowa totaled $26 million.
Although the Strubles were disheartened, they were far from defeated.
After waiting months for their house to dry out enough to begin serious work, and after securing a Small Business Administration loan, the Strubles were able to move back into their home.
“We camped out in the dining room for darn near a year,” Sherman said.
Sherman sprayed every surface with bleach five times before feeling assured that their house would not become riddled with mold.
Life returned to normal in late 2008, the Strubles said.
By 2009, life was good. The walls were repainted and the furniture was repaired or replaced.
Now, the swelling Missouri River threatens to wash away all of that progress.
This time, the stagnant water threatens to seep in slowly and stay awhile. A long while.
For now, it's a waiting game, which gives Melba time to tend to her beloved flowers.
She couldn't bear the thought of her roses, lilies and peonies drowning, never to sprout again. So she decided to put them up for adoption.
“I just told everyone ‘Bring your own shovel, bring your own receptacle, and you can have whatever you want,' ” Melba said. “It'd be a terrible shame to let them die.”
Some of her flowers have been relocated to higher ground at the Church of Christ in Missouri Valley.
High school students who know her from the neighborhood or from her stints as a substitute teacher at Missouri Valley High School, where she was formerly a school nurse, helped with the digging and replanting.
For emotional support, the Strubles lean on each other. They said it's nice not needing to talk about their worries all the time.
“Because you already know what the other's thinking,” Melba said.
When the Strubles leave this time, they might not come back, Melba said. Depending on the damage, she just isn't sure if she can deal with all the rebuilding one more time.
Sherman is more optimistic. If the flood in 2007 was the 100-year flood, and this is the 500-year flood, he figures their chances of not being flooded out again are pretty good.
Exactly when they leave is up to Sherman, they both agreed.
“Sherman is very wise that way,” Melba said. “He won't let us wake up with wet feet.”
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