Cindy Madsen remembers how the post office looked when she came to work after flood waters had inundated North Bend.
The water level had risen to 3 or 4 inches inside the post office, which left a muddy mess.
Madsen, a part-time postal clerk, took a photo and sent it to her boss.
“I can’t clean this up,” she said. “This is way beyond what I can do.”
Indeed, the post office would need to be thoroughly cleaned and inspected.
The postal service hired a contractor to handle the situation and operations were moved to Morse Bluff, about three miles away.
Then—three months and a week after the flooding — North Bend’s post office reopened on June 24.
And on Friday, area residents were invited to an open house to see the refurbished facility.
Madsen talked about what the reopened post office has meant to the area.
“It means getting back to normal for the community — to a little bit more normal,” she said.
Built in 1961, the post office in North Bend has between 800 to 900 rural deliveries and covers the areas of Ames, Morse Bluff, Rogers and North Bend. It has 350 post office boxes.
North Bend’s flooding occurred after a levee at a cutoff ditch 3 miles west of the city breached during the night between March 14 and 15.
Madsen was at work when firemen came on the morning of March 15 as the town was being flooded.
The firefighters had begun evacuating people, including Madsen.
“They said water was coming from the west end of town down Seventh and Eighth streets,” she said.
And the post office is on Eighth Street.
Madsen’s boss, Postmaster Sherry Carmichael, who lives in Fremont, wasn’t able to leave this city, which became an island as flood waters made highways impassable.
Madsen called District Manager Dawn Bayer, saying she had to leave because of the flooding.
“Do what you need to do,” Bayer told Madsen, who went home.
Madsen, her husband, Mark, and their son, Charles, quickly gathered some belongings and their dog, Zelda, and vehicles and headed out of town.
“You could already see the water coming down Seventh Street,” she said.
And only 10 or 15 minutes had passed since she’d been evacuated from the post office.
The Madsens and Charles stayed with the couple’s daughter, Samantha Hultquist, who lives near Ames. Their daughter, McKenzie, who’d been at a district speech meet in Bancroft, would be stranded in West Point for two days.
When the Madsens returned to North Bend, they found that their basement had been filled to the brim with flood water. They lost their furnace, water heater, water softener and some belongings.
It was March 17 — St. Patrick’s Day — when Madsen made it to the post office. Water lines indicated how high the waters had risen inside the structure.
Madsen contacted Carmichael about the mess and returned home to deal with her flooded basement that day. She came down with the flu on Monday.
Like people in other flooded areas, North Bend residents also dealt with road closures. Highways gradually began opening up and North Bend residents saw increased traffic.
In the meantime, arrangements had to be made to handle the mail.
“We had to transfer everything over to the Morse Bluff post office,” she said.
From 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., postal customers had to go to Morse Bluff to get mail from post office boxes that were set up there for them.
North Bend’s three rural carriers would work out of the Morse Bluff office as well.
“We had to sort the mail there,” Madsen noted.
A week after the flooding, North Bend was able to get a mobile postal truck, which was parked outside the office.
“We tried to accommodate people as best we could,” Madsen said.
Some mail could be sent with carriers. If it was OK with the postal customer, their mail could be delivered to a family member or friend who could get it to them.
Such things can be done in a small town where people know each other.
Not all mail could be brought to the mobile postal truck.
But there were a few people, who workers knew couldn’t get their mail. So that mail was brought to the mobile postal truck.
Set up with a generator, the postal truck had a computerized system workers could use to sell stamps and money orders, mail packages and conduct other business.
The North Bend office had to remain closed until it could be cleaned, said Laura Kobza, the postmaster in Schuyler.
Sorting cases were brought in from Omaha, because those in the North Bend office were dirty and contaminated.
Everything in the office had to be cleaned. New tile was put in the lobby.
After the cleaning, the office had to be inspected for safety, Kobza said.
Madsen is glad to be working out of the North Bend office again.
“You look back and you think, ‘How did we do all that?’ I have no idea, but you do it,” she said.
Madsen, Kobza and other postal representatives did a lot of smiling during the open house.
It means a lot to have the local post office open again.
“For community, it’s a great thing,” Kobza said. “For the number of people who come in here every day, it’s a convenience for them to be able to come back in here.”