More than two years after flood, recovery continues for couple

In what will be the master bedroom of her new house in Wapello, Aracely Schlesing points toward a levee that failed before waters flooded her previous house on the same spot in 2008. Her husband, Mike, is building the new home on a 14-foot-hill.

By Celine Klosterman

Two years and five months ago, the Wapello house of Aracely and Mike Schlesing stood stripped bare. Nearby, a pile of debris several feet high held furniture, appliances and other belongings ruined when three feet of water flooded the couple’s house along the Iowa River.

Today, the Schlesings have a key to the front door of a nearly finished home three times the size of their former dwelling. Inside are a washing machine, dryer, refrigerator and showers. Mike, who has spent much of the past two years building the home, hopes to install carpet soon. 

“I say, ‘God, this is real,’” marvelled Aracely, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Columbus Junction. “Two years ago, this was just a vacant lot with a lot of dreams. Today, I feel much better about our future.”

Not that her struggles are over. The flooding in summer 2008 has left the Schlesings in tight financial straits — forcing the couple to rent a home while still making payments on flood-damaged property. Flood insurance provided money the Schlesings used to start construction on their new house, but Aracely said that because of that insurance, her family didn’t qualify for public disaster-relief assistance Mike applied for.


“I’m not going to lie: many times I still go in our house and cry,” she said. “We need money; we can’t make our ends meet.”

Aracely works full-time as an aide in the English as a Second Language program for the Wapello Community School District. Last year, she earned an associate’s degree in leadership studies from William Penn University in Oskaloosa, with hopes of eventually earning a teaching degree. Mike currently works a full-time maintenance job in Mount Pleasant for West Liberty Foods, but relies on his 20 years of experience in the construction industry when working on the new house.

To save the expense of buying new land, Mike chose to build on the site of the family’s former home — after receiving Louisa County’s permission to do so. To protect the new house from potential future floods, he’s constructing it on a 14-foot-high hill the Schlesings created on their property. He’s confident the hill will withstand high waters; since 2008, waters have twice risen to two feet around the hill without incident.

Mike spends nearly all his free time on the house, rising as early as 4:30 a.m. during his three days off each week. Friends, relatives and hired workers help out occasionally, but Mike labors mostly on his own. “It’s very stressful,” he said, but he tries to take things day by day.

“It’s hard to see my husband working so hard, but it’s wonderful at the same time,” Aracely said. “He has so much love and motivation to do this for his family.”

Aracely said she would’ve been content with a smaller house — which would’ve taken less time to build — than the 2,500-square-foot dwelling under construction now. But Mike said he wanted plenty of space for visits from family — including his daughter, two sons and two grandchildren, and Aracely’s son, two daughters and two grandchildren.

 The Schlesings hope relatives may be able to gather in a finished house by Christmas. Looking forward to that date gives Aracely hope.

“I know God has been listening to my prayers,” she said. “When I cry, I know he is with me… Sometimes it’s hard to have faith. But now, every morning I thank God for his blessings. After all we’ve been through, I think he is finally saying, ‘You deserve something good.’”

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