Czech and Slovak Museum in Iowa stricken by floods

The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library on Friday, June 13, 2008, photo: www.ncsml.org

Hundreds of priceless Czech and Slovak artifacts are submerged after severe flooding in the US state of Iowa. The Czech and Slovak Museum in Cedar Rapids, opened in 1995 by then president Havel, alongside his American and Slovak counterparts, has been devastated by the floods. I spoke to museum manager Gail Naughton about the extent of the damage:

The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, photo: CTK
“The flood is of, I think, historic proportions. It exceeded 31.5 feet high, the river surrounded our museum, and the height of the water was up to the roof line of the building. The height of that water was on Friday, and it has since started to recede. So, we’re able to begin to see the outside of the building to assess the damage. But our next step will be to be able to get inside of it, to find out what happened inside.”

How quickly did these floods happen? Were some of the museum staff able to dash inside and save any of the artifacts inside?

“Well, we had some warning that a flood was coming – I mean, when you live on a river, and it’s the springtime and so forth - floods are not totally uncommon. But the museum is built above the hundred-year flood line, the once in a hundred year flood line. And so, that the flood would exceed that by over ten feet – there are no flood lines that even exist to measure that! And we had a couple of days, but we had no idea that the waters would be so high. We did remove two truck-loads of objects from the museum in the time that we had. But this was not all of the things we had in the museum.”

Do you think that some irreplaceable artifacts have been lost in these floods?

“The things that have been left behind we will assess when we get back into the building. But there are techniques now to save many of these things. We have conservators and professionals coming to advise us immediately on what to do with them. So, we are hopeful that with time, we will be able to recover most of these items, even the ones which were in the water.”

Cedar Rapids really traditionally had a very big Czech community, and maybe nowadays that community is not quite so big. Do you think that these floods have wiped out a lot of that tradition and history of Czechs living in Cedar Rapids? Do you think that will ever be the same again after these floods?

“You know, Czechs have endured a lot of difficulties through their history. And I think that the people here still take such great pride in their heritage, and the people associated with the museum are no exception. I think we will survive this. I have no doubt that we will survive. We may be different; there are a lot of things we don’t know at this point. But I have no doubt that we will survive, and that the heritage will continue to be preserved.”

For updates on the Czech and Slovak Museum’s fate go to its website, which is www.ncsml.org.