Residents of the small southwestern Iowa town of Hamburg aren't the type to wait for others fix their problems, so when the nearby Missouri River threatened to flood the community last summer, townspeople worked with the Army Corps of Engineers on a levee that kept floodwaters at bay.
But when the town of nearly 1,200 learned it would have to spend more than $1 million to tear the levee down or raise $4.6 million — after the state agreed to chip in $1 million — to bring the raised levee within federal regulations, leaders decided to ask the world for help.
The result has been an impressive website, found at www.hamburglevee.com , imploring 1.5 million to give just $3 each, ensuring the levee can be saved "for less than a latte."
In the nearly two weeks the website has been up and running, the city has collected more than $23,000 in mostly small donations from as far away as Indonesia, Hamburg Mayor Cathy Crain said. The town is shooting to collect the money it needs by mid-December, but it could have until the end of March, depending on the progress of other federal projects.
The website includes video of a less-than-synchronized flash mob made up of more than 100 Hamburg residents dancing on Main Street to a revamped version of Credence Clearwater Revival's "Proud Mary." What the group lacks in choreography, it makes up for in enthusiasm.
"Every now and then, the little guy needs a helping hand," Crain said. "We're not asking for our town to be bailed out. We're able to pay our bills. We are just unable to pay for this unexpected, yet really important expense."
Hundreds of thousands of acres of land were flooded along the Missouri River in Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri last summer after heavy spring rains and a giant mountain snowpack forced the Corps of Engineers to make massive releases from a series of upstream dams. In June 2011, floodwaters surged through failing levees a few miles south of Hamburg.
The corps and townspeople scrambled to pile 8 feet of earth onto an existing 11-foot, two-mile long secondary levee in a matter of days to protect Hamburg, an effort that cost $6 million. Crain said she learned only a month later that the levee would have to be torn down, or millions more spent to bring it within regulation.
The additional costs include at least $2.2 million on new, taller metal closure gates where the levee meets roadways and the cost of extensive soil tests to ensure the levee is stable.
With the city's funds depleted by its fight against the flood, Crain and others — including Hamburg Councilman Kent Benefiel — began brainstorming a way to raise money to save the levee. It was Benefiel's family that came up with the idea of a flash mob.
"We've spent $550 on this project so far," Crain said. "We've had everything donated, and almost everyone in town has pitched in."