‘It was a mad dash’: Victims of 2011 flood look back on disaster

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NORTH SIOUX CITY, S.D. (KCAU) – It was a year some people tell me they’ll never forget because the pictures of what once was remind them of what they’ve lost and the memories that were washed away.

“It was a very nice home. We had 3 and a quarter acres on the river and we had 310 foot of riverfront. Little did i know it was the lowest piece of property,” Jim Zortman said.

We first spoke to Jim Zortman on Memorial Day weekend back in 2011.

“We’ve never seen this. I’ve lived out in this neighborhood all my life and I’m 62 and I’ve never seen the water this high,” Zortman told us in 2011.

He describes the 2011 floods as a chaotic disaster.

“We were told that the release of the water and the water level that we were expected but they said it would be a 17 day progression before the core released to that amount of water,” Zortman said.

17 days turned into less than seven to evacuate.

“That was probably Tuesday by the time we finally got sand and sand bags down there and by Wednesday afternoon I had fish in my yard,” Zortman said.

By Friday, everyone had to be out.

“It was a mad dash. It really was,” Zortman said.

The water overcame what was once a 4,000 sq. ft. home and created a new home for mother nature.

“We had an 18 mile an hour current going through our home at 4 1/2 foot in the living room. My garage doors were all 7 foot under water and that lasted for 90 days. We were right on the curve right where the current went,” Zortman added.

“We lost our home, and we had 18 years down there,” Zortman said.

Zortman said his home ended up being bulldozed.

And, the fear of that happening was very real for many Siouxlanders.

“We had just moved to a different house in the dunes, and there was some talk about it. Some chatter. And I heard they were going to do some sand bagging,” Kristie Miller-Arlt said.

Kristie Miller-Arlt lived in the Dakota Dunes back in 2011.

“We just moved to this house it was sort of our dream home, and we just loved the neighborhood, and the neighbors and the realization that the house could be under water was terrifying,” Miller-Arlt said.

Even then, Miller-Arlt said none of it seemed real.

“People are just kind of in denial, which I think a part of me still is too. You know the sunshine’s out, everything’s dry right here. The river seems so far away. But, um, that’s going to change,” Miller-Arlt told us in 2011.

Miller-Arlt said thankfully there was only water damage to her basement.

She and others made it their mission to help those in need.

“I remember looking down the street and some of these same people our friends and family were helping our neighbors who they never met. They just went above and beyond, and they also provided comic relief. It was just such a wonderful sense of community and support,” Miller-Arlt said.

What brought challenges also brought new perspective.

“It really changed me, that the spirit of mankind and helping each other is still there. I think that’s the biggest thing I got out of it is faith in mankind as bleak as it looks sometimes they’re still there to help,” Zortman said.

Still, Zortman said some trauma remains.

“Emotionally, my wife has been separated from the property. She’s only been down once after the flood. And she never went back and ill never have her out on the river again that will just never happen. There’s a lot of emotional turmoil that happens in your life and you have to adjust you have to keep going,” Zortman said.

Zortman and Miller-Arlt say when they look back, what they remember most is not the feeling of fear, but the feeling of support and hope that during the lowest of lows, they knew they knew all of Siouxland was in it together

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