COUNCIL BLUFFS — “We are not here to tell people to evacuate. We're here to tell them how to evacuate safely.”
That comment by Karen Hyatt of the Iowa Department of Human Services set the tone for volunteers as they prepared to canvass Council Bluffs neighborhoods near the Missouri River on Saturday.
At each residence, volunteers were to hand out information from the city about preparing for a possible evacuation, Hyatt, the coordinator of the department's Disaster Behavioral Health Response Team, said during orientation.
In addition they were to record the type of home; whether occupants had someplace to go if an evacuation is ordered, such as a friend or relative's home; and whether there were people with special needs.
The goal was to canvass 6,000 homes, or about 32,000 people, she said.
The Department of Human Services team, created after the tornadoes of 2008, started canvassing western Iowa residents Tuesday, visiting Monona and Fremont Counties before launching the two-day Council Bluffs assessment Saturday, Hyatt said. Team members also made home visits and did some in-home counseling, she said.
The AmeriCorps team, made up of volunteers from across the state, also has been involved in flood-related work, said Dawn Stohs, program director of the AmeriCorps disaster response team. She said the team had been on call since June 2.
A group of about 15 members was deployed June 3 and helped with sandbagging in Sioux City for eight days, she said.
Volunteers did find concerned residents as they began their work. Among them was Jim Gress, who lives on the city's east side but is in the process of selling a home on 34th Street.
“I think Council Bluffs and the Army Corps of Engineers are doing everything they possibly can to keep all of us safe,” he said. “I just hope all of our levees hold.”