HAMBURG, Iowa — Sandbags no longer line the businesses downtown. A huge earthen berm no longer surrounds the water treatment plant. This town near the confluence of the Missouri and Nishnabotna Rivers is returning to normal — sort of.
Floodwaters from the Missouri still drain from the fields to the west. Many who live out there cannot yet return. And many of the people here who commute to Nebraska City and elsewhere for work stay near their jobs rather than drive the extra hours back to Iowa.
But signs of normalcy were easier to find Friday in this once flood-threatened town of 1,100.
Hamburg made national news this summer as a nearby Missouri River levee broke and the southernmost part of town was evacuated.
An improvised backup levee protected the town's low-lying areas, but many local farms were inundated. City officials say about 130 area households were evacuated.
After months at the edge of the city, the floodwaters are now receding and many residents have returned.
"Personally, it's good to see the waters going down, people feeling confident," said John Sheldon, owner of Green Valley Realty downtown. "Overall, I'd say we're optimistic. I really feel that most of our residents will return."
One of the signs things in Hamburg are returning to normal takes place Saturday: The 51st Annual Popcorn Day festival.
For many, the festival, with its bounce houses, pet parades and dances, represents a return to the regular.
To Kim Cobb, 54, who temporarily evacuated her house on Main Street, this summer's flood makes the festival mean more.
"Everybody pretty much pulled together and helped everybody out," she said. "No one was forgotten."
Sheldon, who coordinates the festival, shares Cobb's optimism, but it's tempered by the knowledge that maybe 15 percent of normal Popcorn-Day-goers came from Nebraska.
He knows the lengthy detours to get to Hamburg may keep some of them home. Interstate 29 remains closed in the area.
City Clerk Sheryl Owen told Sheldon she didn't think that would matter too much.
"I think it will be a nice surprise this year," she said. "I've had several calls this morning at work: 'How do I get to Popcorn Day?'"
The theme this year is "Standing together, standing strong."
"There's a lot of resiliency in this town. There's a lot of strong people," Sheldon said. "It does break you down to a certain extent, but people stand up. They fight back . I really think the community is stronger for it.
"I really do."
The resiliency theme was common Friday. It was touched on by Terry Holliman, 62, who owns the local NAPA Auto Parts store.
He is moving his business back to its regular Main Street home from its temporary northern one, where the owner of "The Rainbow Fine Furniture & Gifts" let him temporarily share space.
It won't be much longer that local folks see oil filters next to pink leather couches.
"People in Hamburg don't get scared of floods. We live with them," Holliman said. "It's a fact of life down here. We just pack up and move to higher ground."
Holliman said that it's hard to estimate what the flooding has cost his business or the town. Farmers will not need parts to make repairs if they can't harvest flooded fields.
"Some of our biggest customers lost everything out there on the bottom," he said.
But for folks fortunate enough to come home, the feeling here in Hamburg is relief.
"It's good to be home," Cobb said. "I'm still unpacking some stuff, but the stress is gone."
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