Iowa City, Iowa (AFP) June 15, 2008
More rain was headed to flood ravaged Iowa Sunday where tens of thousands of residents had been forced to flee their homes and officials struggled to reinforce breached levies and stem the rushing waters.
More than 4.8 million sandbags had already been filled and damage was estimated to be in the billions of dollars with 83 of the state's 99 counties declared disaster areas.
The flooding will likely put further pressure on already high global food prices as initial estimates place the damage at a loss of up to 20 percent of Iowa's crops and fields elsewhere in the nation's corn belt were also affected.
Barge traffic was ground to a halt on the swollen Mississippi river and rail shipments were also hit as floodwaters covered and even washed out track and key bridges, officials said.
Many towns were still bracing for the worst.
"We've still got flood crests to go through all the way through Wednesday morning," Iowa Department of Emergency Management spokesman John Benson told AFP.
Residents of hardest-hit Cedar Rapids - where 1,300 streets were submerged and 24,000 of the city's 124,000 residents were evacuated - were to be allowed briefly back to some homes but only under escort.
They got some relief when floodwaters receded more quickly than expected, but the wreckage left behind was stunning.
Television crews allowed into the downtown area came back with images of massive pieces of debris littering the streets, smashed store windows, warped furniture and sidewalks streaked with mud and sand.
"This is a traumatic event," Cedar Rapids police Chief Greg Graham said at a press conference.
"We're going to have ministers at the checkpoints for counseling."
The rushing water leaving Cedar Rapids was heading straight for Iowa City, where 35 blocks were already inundated and crews loaded sandbags into boats and army trucks to reinforce barricades in danger of breaching.
The college town's sloping hills will save it from total devastation, but at least ten percent of its buildings will be inundated by the time the river crests around midnight on Monday, said Johnson County spokesman Mike Sullivan.
And it will take at least a week for the river to return to normal levels.
"This is a flood of epic proportions," Sullivan told AFP. "It's absolutely devastating."
Smaller towns in the flatter areas downriver of Iowa City were more at risk and sandbagging efforts continued on Sunday. Complicating efforts were forecasts of scattered thunderstorms which could bring localized flash flooding.
A large swath of Des Moines remained underwater after a river levee was breached in the city of 200,000 Saturday morning and officials were concerned that a forecasted evening thundershower could raise river levels even higher.
Muddy water from the Des Moines River covered several bridges and poured down streets north of the state Capitol, swallowing a neighborhood with about 200 homes and 40 businesses.
"This held for about four hours this morning and they pulled everyone out because it was starting to get loose," Des Moines Fire Department Captain Tony Merrill said, as he looked at a hastily constructed sand berm that floodwaters busted.
"It's very disheartening," he told AFP.
"They put down two miles of sand bags (Friday) night. They were making 8,000 bags an hour."
A levee breach in the town of Oakville forced a rushed evacuation Saturday night with the town expected to be inundated in less than three hours, the Iowa Department of Emergency Management said.
The disaster began when a major tornado struck on May 25. It was followed by heavy rains, and on Wednesday another twister touched ground in western Iowa, killing four boy scouts.
"This has been a very trying week for our state," Iowa Governor Chet Culver said in a statement. "Responding to a crisis like this takes the cooperation of everyone, from the federal government down to the local communities."
Serious flooding has hit the entire region, including parts of South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.
The death toll from the extreme weather currently stands at 16 in Iowa and five more elsewhere in the midwest.
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More rain heading to flooded US midwest as east coast wilts
Chicago (AFP) June 9, 2008
More heavy storms were headed to the flood-ravaged US midwest Monday as the east coast wilted in a sweltering heat wave, the National Weather Service warned.
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