Rick Eppenbaugh thought he had seen it all. He served in the Marines and now works with troubled teens. However, nothing prepared him for the flood that invaded his life, engulfing his home and everything around it near Pacific Junction, Iowa.
“I’ve always been a pretty hardcore guy, being in the military and working with street kids. That’s what I do. (I) was kind of a street kid myself. I was a pretty tough guy, but this is hard to take, pretty hard to take.”
Many homes are unlivable in the U.S. Midwest, especially those located within a few kilometers of a stream or river. Eppenbaugh said last summer was unusually wet and a March storm, combined with fluctuating temperatures, caused the winter snow to quickly melt and overwhelm the levees, flooding roads, farmland and homes.
WATCH: Water Came up Fast, Destroyed Iowa Dream Home
Evacuation by boat
Eppenbaugh was surprised the water rose so quickly.
“There was water over the road already in half an hour from when the levy breached. It covered a mile, a mile and a half, flooded all (the) fields, flooded the interstate,” Eppenbaugh said.
He, his wife and five dogs were eventually evacuated by boat, but they had to leave his wife’s two beloved horses behind.
“They were standing out front when we got in that boat and motored away. No one’s seen them alive or dead,” Eppenbaugh said.
The family is temporarily living in a home in Omaha owned by Eppenbaugh’s boss. However, the farm dogs are cooped up in the house and unused to living in the city, and Eppenbaugh is anxious to start rebuilding his house.
Water rose high
On his second trip home after the flood, he and two friends, with a borrowed rowboat, slowly made their way across what looks like a lake. The only sign that they are actually over flooded farmland are the corn stalks that occasionally poke out of the water.
He had always dreamed of owning a home in the countryside. He realized that dream six years ago when his children were grown and had their own homes. He and his wife bought a farmhouse built in 1924, just a 30 minute drive from the city of Omaha.
“I used to just sit out here at night. Stars were real bright. Dogs are running around,” Eppenbaugh said.
The water had receded enough that Eppenbaugh’s home looked like it was on an island. From the waterlines seen inside the walls of the house, the water rose to about 30 centimeters below the ceiling. Everything on his first floor had been underwater. His refrigerator was now on its side. Precious family photos were wet and ruined.
“Until you start looking, you don’t really even know what you’ve lost,” Eppenbaugh said, as he looked around to see what he could salvage.
He said he will have to replace his floors, walls and he hopes the foundation is still good.
“All the money we put in this place in the last six years is just wasted,” he said.
‘It’s so overwhelming’
Eppenbaugh calmly looked around, but did not reflect the shock he had been experiencing since the flood.
“I’ve been crying for two weeks. Trust me, it’s not that calm of a deal. It’s just … it’s so overwhelming.”
After picking up a few things, Eppenbaugh had to walk and row away, until the water receded.
No one in the area had flood insurance. He said it’s too expensive. Eppenbaugh estimated it may take up to a year to rebuild his home piece by piece.
“It’s pretty overwhelming. You just kind of feel numb.”