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Iowa couple finds urn with daughter's ashes unharmed after flooding destroyed their home

Randy and Wanda Bliek left their Rock Valley, Iowa, home in the middle of the night with only the clothes on their back as floodwaters surged.
Iowa Flooding June 2024 Rock Valley
Posted at 11:30 AM, Jun 26, 2024

Randy and Wanda Bliek left their home of 39 years in Rock Valley, Iowa, with only the clothes on their back.

The couple said they woke up around 2 a.m. on Saturday to the sound of water lapping against their family room walls. When they rushed to their pickup truck and backed out of their driveway to escape, the truck began to float.

Water surrounded the truck, the pressure trapping them inside unable to open the doors. They escaped through the truck’s windows and waded in neck-high, surging water, searching for help.

Rock Valley, a city in Sioux County situated in Iowa’s northwestern corner, was one of the hardest hit by catastrophic flooding after torrential rains breached levees and crested the nearby Rock River.

“It’s gone. Everything,” said Wanda Bliek on Tuesday in a live phone interview with Scripps News. “It’s devastating.”

Hundreds of homes were destroyed, leaving thousands of residents trying to figure out where to go — and that’s just in Rock Valley.

From the northern Plains states to the Midwest, residents have endured days of record rainfall and the ensuing flooding. Bridges, dams and other infrastructure have been damaged, and many residents have been forced to evacuate.

President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration for Iowa’s affected areas on Monday, allowing federal aid to be granted.

The Blieks returned to their home days later to assess the damage. There was only thing one thing on their mind.

“It was really, really hard,” said Wanda. “When we left, we left our daughter on the mantle in her urn. The only thing I really cared about. But she was still there when we got back.”

The couple said they don’t plan to rebuild and have found refuge in an apartment.

Randy said the devastating flooding took them by surprise because officials said it wasn’t going to be that bad.

He’s not the only one who feels that way.

Further south in Sioux City, Iowa, officials responded to those complaints during a press conference.

Sioux City Fire Marshal Mark Aesoph said rivers crested higher than predicted, over 7 feet higher than the previous record, but even if they had known the severity, there was nothing they could do.

“We cannot extend the entire length of our levee,” Aesoph said. “It’s impossible.”

Wanda Bliek said when this type of devastating flooding happened in 2014, officials said it was a “100-year flood” and it wouldn’t happen again. But 10 years later — almost to the exact day — it did happen again.

“We’ve lived there 39 years and now we have nowhere to go,” said Wanda.