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Andrew Van Ginkel's Family Recovering from Flood, Providing Relief for Victims

Andrew Van Ginkel and his family were impacted by recent flooding in Iowa.

Andrew Van Ginkel's family is safe, and that's the most important thing.

But the devastation left behind after floodwaters tore through their community of Rock Valley, Iowa, is emotionally heavy.

Having both grown up in the city of 4,000 people, the Vikings outside linebacker and his wife Sam know most of their neighbors and appreciate the small-town life.

Rock Valley is rural but diverse, a community that values its large Hispanic population and immigrants who settled there to work the farmland. Andrew and Sam's parents each reside at the top of a hill on one side of town, and their own home is located in the valley, where they return during NFL offseasons with their two young sons, Leo and Ripken.

And where floodwaters have changed it forever.

Andrew was in Minneapolis the night of the flooding, while Sam stayed at their Iowa home with the boys. Feeling nervous about the darkening storm clouds, Sam also invited her sister to stay over.

"She was having a movie night with Leo down in the basement, and I was upstairs cleaning Ripken's bottles. She yelled at me, 'What is that smell?' So I came downstairs, and that's when I noticed our laundry room was full of sewer water," Sam recalled. "It was flowing out of the drain."

Within minutes of sending her sister and Leo upstairs, Sam watched as sewer water escaped the laundry room and seeped across the entire basement floor.

A previous owner of the home came by to help Sam, but neither could get the sump pump to properly function.

"I was cleaning up some of the water, thinking I could maybe get ahead of it. But it just kept rising and rising," she said. "We did find two other pumps to start running, but we just couldn't get ahead of it. It kept flowing in so fast."

Sam, her sister and the boys then left the house for their parents'. Still, they couldn't fathom how terrible things would get.

Around 3 a.m., Sam awoke in a guest bedroom to tornado sirens blaring an evacuation warning and a torrent of headlights heading up the hill toward her parents' house.

They're trying to get to higher ground, she realized.

"I went outside and someone told me, 'The levee broke.' "

Sam's mother and mother-in-law headed back to the Van Ginkel home to retrieve the family dog, as well as Sam and Andrew's vehicles that had been parked in the front lawn. They also attempted to salvage what they could of sentimental items that had been stored in the basement.

"They tried to save some of the kids' baptism certificates and cards, and pictures that we had," Andrew noted. "Things you've worked so hard for and you're proud of. Things like diplomas, or items you can't replace that you've kept over a lot of the years. A lot of my high school things. Photos with some of my high school teammates, my high school photographs and all that good stuff were basically ruined."

"We got the boys' memory boxes," Sam added. "But my mom was walking through waist-deep water. That's when it was like, 'OK, this is really, really bad. We can't make another trip.' "

Rock Valley is not completely immune to flooding, but the community has never seen such utter destruction.

Flood waters did hit the town in 2014, forcing many to evacuate homes until levels receded. But according to Rock Valley Police Chief Monte Warburton, that incident involved lots of standing water, whereas the most recent flooding and levee collapse created a strong current that "easily destroyed basement walls" and claimed the life of one local man.

"It came out of nowhere in '14. People were kind of shocked," Andrew said. "Everyone this time was like, 'Oh, there's no way it could get higher than that. That was the craziest flooding we've ever seen.' Before the flooding, they were saying it was supposed to be right at about the same level as 2014.

"It ended up being five feet higher, which is unheard of. It affected so many more homes," he added. "It got up to a lot of people's main floors, which didn't really happen in 2014. It's just completely different."

Andrew recounted stories of neighbors who carried children though rushing water that reached waist and sometimes even chest level, seeking safety for their families.

According to Rock Valley station KTIV, more than 1,500 residents have been displaced.

"A lot of people who have family close by, they're staying with them – outside of town and in nearby areas that weren't affected, that have running water and electricity. There's a lot of people staying there," Andrew said. "But the people who don't have anybody to go to, don't have family members or aren't blessed in that way, there are a couple churches that have set up food, clothing, donations and some shelter. There's a couple hotels in the next town over that people went to. People are kind of just making do with what they have."

In the wake of receded water, Rock Valley lawns are covered with mud-covered mattresses, gutted cabinets and piles divided into "try to save" or "unsalvageable." Some, like Sam, have spent hours spreading water-logged photographs, old art projects and high school awards across the grass in hopes that sunshine will dry out the wrinkled paper.

Amid the chaos and wreckage, hope has shined in the form of thousands of volunteers pitching in where needed – delivering food, helping to clean, offering shelter or comfort. Mercy Chefs, a faith-based humanitarian nonprofit, is delivering 5,000 meals each day for a week.

"It's truly amazing seeing how the town has come together. The amount of people in our town [has probably] doubled or tripled. On both sides of the streets, there are cars lined up with volunteers and people willing to help," Andrew said. "Just seeing the number of trucks and payloaders and skid loaders that are coming to clear out all the debris and helping people get their basements dry as quickly as possible so they can try to save their house.

All the farmers coming in from out of town that want to help and want to get this town back together and get the town trending back up."

Andrew and his family know this will be a long road for their beloved community.

Unfortunately, very few of the Rock Valley residents have flood insurance and will be relying on personal savings, donations or relief organizations to get back on their feet. The Van Ginkels are new to the Vikings organization but not to the region – and they know the big ways in which communities show up for one another.

Van Ginkel's former Dolphins teammate Zach Sieler and the Sieler Haven Foundation have partnered with Andrew and Sam in an effort to rebuild, house and provide resources to the displaced families of Rock Valley. Donations can be made here to support the community.

"It's a dark time right now," Andrew said. "But hopefully, people can see the light at the end of the tunnel."