HAMBURG, Iowa — Residents in this small southwest Iowa town can't wait for summer to end.
They're suffering what Mayor Cathy Crain calls "flood fatigue," sick of dealing with the threat of floods that in June forced more than 100 residents to leave their homes.
With traffic from Interstate Highway 29 being choked off by the flooded Missouri River, business owners are barely getting by. Some have shut down, and others are getting ready to.
The town's bracing to lose its high school to Farragut this fall in a grade-sharing agreement.
And this week, 95 people — about 20 of whom live in Hamburg — were told that they will lose their jobs at the local ConAgra Foods' microwave popcorn production plant when it closes in mid-October.
The job losses could have a dramatic trickle-down effect in the town of 1,100, Crain said. There aren't enough open positions in Hamburg to support those being lost at the ConAgra plant. Businesses downtown, Crain said, are just getting back on their feet after dealing with floods for the last 60 days.
It's been a tense summer as Hamburg residents saw river water breach a levee and flow toward the town. Only a hastily raised interior levee has stood between the town and floodwaters.
"We are concerned," Crain said. Even after floodwaters recede, the town will still face the threat of residents and businesses leaving town and a tax revenue continuing to decline.
"At this point we want people to stay here. They're part of our community," Crain said. "They will get back on their feet. They might have to drive quite a ways (to work), but they will get back on their feet."
Others aren't as optimistic.
"This whole summer has been a nightmare," said Pamela Lotz, a Hamburg resident who manages the Colonial Theater, owned by the city. "I never thought I'd be glad to see summer end, but I am."
Lotz doesn't have a lot of hope for Hamburg's future. The theater is operating in the red, she said. Before the flooding and the announcement this week of the eliminated jobs, business was barely trickling in. She's not sure whether the theater will survive.
"We can't pay all of our bills," she said. "It would be nice just to break even."
Other businesses, particularly service-related ones such as a coin laundry, and a grocery store have closed. A bakery owner said Thursday that he plans to close.
ConAgra said the decision to close the microwave popcorn plant was financially driven and not related to the flooding. Of the three microwave popcorn facilities ConAgra operates, Hamburg's is the smallest. Production from that facility will be split between production plants in Marion, Ohio, and Rensselear, Ind.
Soaring commodity costs recently have hurt the profits of ConAgra, which makes Orville Redenbacher's and Act II brands of microwave popcorn, as well as brands that include Healthy Choice, Banquet, Slim Jim, Peter Pan peanut butter and Hebrew National hot dogs. The closure in Hamburg is a result of the company trimming operational costs and trying to increase efficiency.
ConAgra plans to keep running its bulk popcorn operation in Hamburg, said Teresa Paulsen, a company spokeswoman for the Omaha-based packaged food giant. The bulk plant employs 45 people.
ConAgra is one of the largest employers in Hamburg, and the company's plants and silos take up blocks of the north end of the small town. On Thursday, plant officials shooed away visitors, and multiple workers declined to talk about the layoffs, with some saying only managers could answer questions.
"We wish this decision was not necessary, especially given the challenges the Hamburg community has faced this summer," said Chris Whitehair, vice president of operations for ConAgra's snack unit. "Our people in Hamburg have worked hard to maintain normal operations in the midst of historic flooding.
"Nevertheless, we needed to find a way to run our popcorn network more efficiently, and this was the most economically viable option."
At Stoner Drug, one of the few businesses on Main Street open Thursday afternoon, Debbie Reeves, 56, the pharmacy's bookkeeper, said the ConAgra layoffs make an already tough situation even tougher.
"It's like, can we get slapped in the face any more? It's just piling on and piling on," said Reeves, a lifelong Hamburg resident.
About 10 percent of all Stoner Drug's business is tied to filling prescriptions for ConAgra employees. Reeves and Phil Kuhr, a pharmacist, are expecting to lose that business.
"There's no good time for something like this," Kuhr said. "But this is especially bad."
Thursday, in the same City Council meeting room where ConAgra representatives broke the news Wednesday to Hamburg officials, Crain answered phone calls and signed checks.
One caller asked about flood evacuations. Another called to tell Crain that the family was moving back into their home and giving the required notice to the city.
On the south end of town, where the flood threat was worst, many people haven't returned, despite the city this month changing its evacuation in the area from mandatory to "voluntary."
To Crain's left, an entire wall was covered with flood maps, phone numbers for city workers and pictures of the flooding. The council chambers had the feeling of a war room where decision-makers meet when things go wrong.
Despite the floods and the fallout from residents losing their homes — and now jobs — Crain said she plans to keep fighting.
"These are hard times everywhere," she said. "We'll keep takin' it as long as we need to. We're keeping our city. We're dug in."
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