WAUBONSIE STATE PARK, Iowa — Debbie Boyd married her husband, Chris, last fall at this scenic bluff overlooking neighbors' farm fields and roads. But what she sees from here now no longer looks like home.
Eight miles away and barely visible through the haze is her empty, flooded town of Percival, where water laps against homes, washes away driveways and grows mold on the walls like hair. To the south and just out of sight are her campsite neighbors' homes in Hamburg, with only an inner levee between deluge and the southern part of town.
Around the valley, Missouri River floodwaters spread like a watery tableau.
" 'It'll be all right.' I just tell myself that. 'It'll be all right,' " Debbie Boyd said. "I don't really go up there and look any more."
The Boyds are one of 11 families from flooded Percival and flood-threatened Hamburg making temporary homes at this Loess Hills state park.
The 29 campers here lived before in Depression-era farmhouses and century-old apartment homes. They live now in fifth-wheel travel trailers and recreational vehicles.
The majority moved here in early June, as officials up and down the valley issued evacuation orders. Some, like Charlie and Patti Bohlen of rural Percival, arrived later.
"This is either Hamburg North or Percival East — it depends on which part you're in," said Curt Boyd, Debbie's brother-in-law.
The camp is surrounded by trees, their temporary homes a few feet apart, cars and sport utility vehicles crammed onto grass. Outside, children pedal around on bikes. Inside, adults worry about the future.
When will they be able to return home? What will they find when they get home? How much work will their properties require? What kind of regulatory hoops await?
The circumstances here are shared by others at other campgrounds along the Missouri. On Thursday evenings, 40 to 90 evacuees from both sides of the river get together for dinner at First Presbyterian Church of Nebraska City.
These days, Curt and Nancy Boyd have company in their 1997 Omaha-built Avion Westport fifth-wheel trailer. Also in the one-bedroom space are their daughter, her significant other and their two children — 11-month-old Kaylee Harvey and 10-year-old Cheyenne Moutray.
"You spend a lot of time outside," Curt said.
Nancy worries about the long-term effects of displacement.
"What we're trying to do is make things as normal as possible," she said as Kaylee played with Cheerios on a gray plastic tub. "It's going to affect the children, big time."
Said Curt: "I think Cheyenne gets a bit bored. Thank God for Nintendo."
Nancy's 61st birthday took place out here — about the time the Percival levee broke.
"I called her and said, 'You'd better take one more look through the house, just in case,'" Curt said.
She returned to their farm just south of town and grabbed some of Curt's things. He had stayed behind for a while to watch for looters and help sandbag. She walked around the spread that had been in Curt's family since the 1880s and wondered if she would see it again in decent condition.
She took a few pictures, and when she returned to camp, grabbed a bottle of Chivas scotch.
"I had a scotch and water and sat and cried my eyes out," she said. "What do you do?"
The family plans to send Cheyenne to her regular elementary school in nearby Sidney this fall. The school bus will pick her up at the camp.
Charlie and Patti Bohlen aren't as worried about their home as they are about the business they bought last year — the one-time Percival Farm Service, now Bohlen's Farm Service. Charlie and his crew sold bulk fuel for farmers, fixed tires for Interstate 29 passers-by and welcomed each morning customer with free hot coffee.
"We used all of our savings to get this business started," Patti said. "And we could lose it all."
She and Charlie live in a Forest River Cedar Creek fifth-wheel camper with a small couch, satellite TV and kitchenette that has a coffeemaker and toaster.
They bought the camper a few years ago, anticipating some post-retirement travel, but with his business largely inaccessible and no one in Percival, retirement may have to wait.
They have to use a business line of credit to make the building's mortgage payments. Charlie is biding time with lawn-mowing jobs. Patti has kept working as an administrative coordinator for Crop Production Services, which moved its offices to Sidney before the floodwaters hit.
But the Bohlens, like most of their neighbors out here, don't know what they'll find when the floodwaters recede.
"I'm usually a super-sound sleeper," said Charlie, who before the flood got to work six days a week by 6 a.m. "I can't say I've had a really good restful night."
Some nights he walks two steps down to the kitchen for a drink of water. He tries watching TV or takes the couple's rat terrier, Bandit, for a walk.
"That uncertainty, it's like going into a dark closet. You don't know what it holds."
Yet he finds reason for optimism in the coming construction of roads and levees after the floodwaters ebb. He hopes the workers become customers.
Parked between the Bohlens and Nancy and Curt Boyd is the 1981 Holiday travel trailer of Debbie Boyd and husband Chris of Percival.
He bought it on Craigslist after Memorial Day for $3,000 — cheaper than renting an apartment. He strapped his house TV antenna to the side, giving him a crystal-clear image of Brian Williams interviewing House Speaker John Boehner on the flat-screen TV atop the waist-high refrigerator.
Debbie spent her most recent birthday out here, too. But don't ask her what she did.
"You don't remember anything, really," she said.
Chris, a 55-year-old volunteer firefighter who helped marshal the last people out of Percival as floodwaters rushed in, says he tries to think positive.
"There isn't anything I can do about the water except wait for it to go down," he said. "Worrying about it isn't going to change anything."
Now this vacation spot is a daily reminder of displaced lives, of long drives for food or gasoline and longing for home.
"It's been nothing but expense after expense since we've been out here," said Eugenia Jacobson, 63, of Hamburg.
Campsite neighbor John Holecek's marriage was rocky before the flood, he said.
Now the 42-year-old Hamburg resident's wife stays elsewhere.
"Whoever is at fault for this — I don't know if anybody is at fault for this — but somebody has cost me my life," he said.
Mike Crecelius, Fremont County's emergency management coordinator, said it won't be until at least the beginning of October before Percival residents can move back. The mandatory evacuation of south Hamburg recently became voluntary.
The campers here usually cook their own food. But every Wednesday night, alternating area churches serve a picnic dinner. This particular Wednesday the food — fried chicken, sweet corn and spaghetti — was provided by Methodists, the servers led by a minister from Farragut with a blue wristband that said "Miracles Do Happen."
Charlie Bohlen said the majority of people at camp are people he has known his whole life.
"I guess I try to take it lightly. God is going to provide for me somehow. If you think about it, it pulls you down," he said. "Keeping a positive attitude and getting together with some of your friends, it picks you up a little."
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