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Audubon County Marks 60 Years Since Fatal Flood Disaster

EXIRA, Iowa  --  On July 2nd, 1958, a catastrophic flood hit Audubon County, killing 19 residents.

"There was a bridge up east of Hamlin that was collecting a lot of trash underneath. That finally gave way, so there was a wall of water that came down Highway 71," said Greg Jensen, who was seven years old at the time. “After that, a lot of homes got built here up on higher ground on the east side of town."

Exira residents who remember that event were all quite young when it happened.

"I remember when they were bringing boats down, dropping bodies off along the side of the street down there," said Gary Van Aernam, who was 14 when the flood hit. “The bridge was gone here in town, it was chaos more or less for people.”

The Courthouse Museum, located in a building that was Audubon County’s first courthouse, now has a display of photos and information about the 1958 flood.

“It was kind of sad, as they would learn another person was found dead just kind of everybody was upset,” said Dennis Ballou, who was eight when the flood struck. “When I watched the news the other night, seeing pictures of the rain, it reminded me of the rain we had the night of the July 2.”

The event produced some incredible survivor stories, including that of Elise Smith, who was swept from her west Exira home by floodwaters.

“She survived by floating on a log south of town about 30-40 miles down the Nishnabotna," said Judi Nelson of the Courthouse Museum. “She was rescued near Griswold, Iowa.”

There is also a story about the Lucky 13.

“All collected in the back of the truck, and through the night they held the children up out of the water to keep them from drowning,” said Nelson. “So they were considered the Lucky 13, because spent they entire night in the truck not knowing if they’d survive the night.”

The flood information is on display in the Courthouse Museum, along with a rare collection of 7,500 metal nails collected from 85 countries by A.G.Anderson.

For information on the Courthouse Museum, click here.