Wapsi repeatedly floods home
Donald Burkhead is raising his two grandsons, Kyle, 3, left, and Devin, 2, in a home near Donahue, Iowa. The family now has a water heater and new furnace mounted high enough to withstand future flooding and money to buy new drywall. (Kevin E. Schmidt/QUAD-CITY TIMES)

Butterflies flit across the rough graveled road that leads to the small gray house shared by Donald Burkhead and his two young grandsons near the Wapsipinicon River.

The row of residences in this section of Scott County are modest-sized, mostly one-story buildings that were originally used as seasonal homes. Residents often see wild turkeys, pheasants, deer and even a fox or two.

“It’s probably one of the last places in America where your kids can run up and down the block without worrying about it,’’ Burkhead said. “The neighbors look out for each other.”

But many of the homes, such as Burkhead’s, are built in the river’s floodplain and are perpetually in danger of flooding.

Earlier this year, Mother Nature created major chaos for Burkhead with overflow from the nearby Wapsi River and Mud Creek. And that didn’t spell good news for a man raising his grandchildren on his own. A daughter helps look after the boys when he’s at work.

The problems for Burkhead began in February with snow melting and filling up ditches. The area finally flooded in March and got into his

923-square-foot house, which was built in 1950 and is valued at a little more than $16,000. Staff from Howard Johnsons helped him get back on his feet with a donation of a bed, carpeting and dressers.

“That was really a minor flood compared to the next one,” Burkhead said. “It’s unbelievable how fast the mold spreads.”

That next one came in June, with the seemingly never-ending rains. Burkhead moved the family’s belongings up out of the way, but 18 inches of water overwhelmed the house. It stripped the varnish off an antique dresser, ruined appliances, the kids’ clothing and toys and left most of their belongings clumped together in piles of garbage. Burkhead and a couple of friends dug into the task of hauling out the ruined possessions and tearing out the damaged sheet rock to prevent mold.

Additional help arrived June 23, he thought, as a Federal Emergency Management Agency worker seemed to think he would be eligible to receive money to repair the house. Meanwhile, the American Red Cross of the Quad-Cities Area helped him get a new hot water heater. And his boss, Mark Bartling, owner of the Pizza Shack in northwest Davenport, gave him extra hours and loan of a vehicle.

Then, a few weeks later, Burkhead got the bad news. A prior owner had already received federal assistance on the house from a previous flood, making it ineligible for additional assistance money since it was in a recognizable floodplain. Burkhead said he was unaware of that when he bought the house about four years ago.

The Unsinkable Spirit Flood Relief Fund — established by the Quad-City Times, United Way of the Quad-Cities and Quad-Cities River Bandits — is helping Burkhead and his grandchildren, Kyle, 3, and Devin, 2, with additional relief. The groups have worked to raise money from local businesses and individuals to help flood victims from the June storms and the most recent tornado-like winds that struck the Quad-Cities.

The fund has provided Burkhead with a gift card to a home-improvement store for the purchase of drywall to complete his repairs and paid for a new furnace. The hot water heater and furnace are professionally mounted on boxes, so they will be unaffected by future floods.

But Burkhead knows he has to raise his entire house out of harm’s way to completely solve his flooding problems. He said he plans to start saving money, so he can purchase floor jacks and foundation materials to get that job done.

“It was a lot of work. We’re almost there,’’ he said. “We’ve got hot water now, and we’ve got the furnace. A special thanks to the Unsinkable Fund and to the Red Cross for helping me.”

The city desk can be contacted at (563) 383-2450 or newsroom@qctimes.com.