The Heat Is Online

Iowa Floods Leave Billions in Damages

Flood Waters Recede in Two Largest Iowa Cities, June 16, 2008


DES MOINES, Iowa - Muddy flood waters retreated from sections of Iowa's two largest cities on Sunday, exposing ruined homes and businesses, while the battle against still-rising rivers continued downstream.


Authorities opened a second breach in a broken levee built to hold back the raging Des Moines River to allow flood waters to escape the riverfront neighborhood.


Des Moines lifted a voluntary evacuation order for the remainder of the state capital that had been threatened.


In flood-stricken Cedar Rapids, some of the evacuated residents got their first look at ruined homes from canoes, and authorities organized checkpoints to allow homeowners one-time trips to assess the damage.


More than 9 square miles (14 sq km), or 1,300 city blocks, of the city of 140,000 were flooded at one point, and the fast-retreating water exposed a thick muck that officials warned could contain hazardous chemicals.


Delores Korsmo found ankle-deep water inside her home, with the refrigerator floating in the middle of the kitchen. She said she has no flood insurance.


"I hope I can get it fixed up," she told the Cedar Rapids Gazette. "I'll have to find someone with money."


Owners of businesses in downtown Cedar Rapids, where the water topped streets signs and shut down a giant cereal factory, were escorted to their offices on upper floors of buildings via an elevated "skywalk" to retrieve laptop computers and documents. Pumps were brought in to salvage the police station.



Cedar Rapids gave a preliminary damage estimate from the flooding of more than US$700 million.


Gov. Chet Culver said Iowa's losses could be in the billions of dollars, with 83 of 99 counties declared disasters and seeking federal aid. Three people died in flood-related incidents, and 12 were killed by tornadoes.


US President George W. Bush, visiting France, expressed sympathy for victims of the floods after attending a church service at the American Cathedral of Paris.


"My thoughts and prayers go out to those who have suffered from the floods in our country. I know there's a lot of people hurting right now," Bush said.


Besides Iowa, flooding has inundated parts of Kansas, Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana -- disrupting businesses and tourism, and shutting down factories and processors.


Heavy spring rains have delayed planting of crops and submerged farm fields, sparking a record spike in corn prices and price jumps for other commodities. This may aggravate an upsurge in inflation, lifting food prices further and increasing costs of making fuel like ethanol /from corn.


In Southeast Iowa, hundreds of volunteers laid sandbags in often vain efforts to hold back rising rivers.


Officials at the University of Iowa in Iowa City removed valuable paintings, books and documents to a safe place as the Iowa River inundated parts of the campus.


"They've been in an active flood fight for the last six days and are staying even with it at this point," said John Benson of the state's Department of Homeland Security.


Scattered thunderstorms early on Sunday caused a slight "blip" in river levels, but did not appreciably alter forecasted river crests, Benson said. Mostly clear weather was forecast for much of the coming week.


Girding for the watery onslaught from the Iowa tributaries that flow into the Mississippi River, officials in Illinois and eastern Iowa dumped sand, barricaded roads, and brought in heavy equipment to protect against flooding and deal with the aftermath.


A 300-mile (480-km) stretch of the vital waterway has been closed to barge traffic.


Already, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich directed resources to the small riverfront towns of Keithsburg and Carman, where protective levees broke on Sunday.