ICS Magazine

Receding Cedar Rapids flood reveals wide damage

June 15, 2008

(AP) – June 15, 2008 - Receding water revealed widespread damage Sunday caused by a record flood crest, while other Iowa cities faced rivers that were still rising.

The Cedar River had fallen to 24.6 feet Sunday, more than five feet below the crest of 31.1 feet it reached Friday.

"As the river recedes we're beginning to see the incredible destruction that is left behind," said Dave Koch, spokesman for the city of Cedar Rapids, where the worst flooding has taken place.

The city planned to set up 10 checkpoints where residents will have to show ID and sign in before being allowed to return home to begin removing belongings. Houses where damage is severe will remain off limits, Koch said.

Koch said additional National Guard troops were being deployed to the city to help secure the perimeter around the flood area.

He said it would be two to three more days before the river drops enough so crews can begin pumping water back over the levees, and another week before the river falls below flood stage.

The flooding in Cedar Rapids swamped 1,300 city blocks, forced 24,000 people to flee their homes and nearly shut off the drinking water supply for the state's second-largest city.

But as the Cedar River retreated, the Iowa River was still rising at Iowa City, where water had already invaded parts of the University of Iowa campus and wasn't expected to crest until Monday or Tuesday.

"This is our version of Katrina," Johnson County Emergency Management spokesman Mike Sullivan said of the flooding in Iowa City. "This is the worst flooding we've ever seen - much worse than 1993," when much of the Midwest was hit by record flooding.

At least three deaths in Iowa have been attributed to the storms and subsequent flooding, and 12 more have died in two recent tornadoes. The governor has issued disaster proclamations for 83 of the state's 99 counties.

President Bush was briefed on the flooding in Iowa and other parts of the Midwest while he was in Paris, and was assured that federal agencies are making plans to help people affected by the high water, White House press secretary Dana Perino said.

In the state capital of Des Moines, a levee breach Saturday morning inundated a neighborhood of more than 200 homes, a high school and about three dozen businesses. City crews and National Guard units struggled to build a temporary berm in a bid to stop the water, but by midmorning the water had cut through their mounds of dirt and sandbags.

Some residents of the racially diverse, working class Birdland neighborhood were upset that other areas of city have received more flood-control improvements than Birdland since severe floods hit the area in 1993.

"They should have known this was coming," said Chris Lucas, who had taken refuge at a shelter.

Another levee break along the Iowa River in the southeastern corner of the state swamped tiny Oakville, population 439. Also in southeast Iowa, authorities told all the roughly 250 people in Fredonia to leave their homes and ordered more evacuations in two other small towns, Columbus Junction and Columbus City - all clustered near the junction of the Iowa and Cedar rivers.

But the state's worst damage to date was in Cedar Rapids, where early estimates put property damage at $736 million, said fire department spokesman Dave Koch. He said about 9.2 square miles of the city was affected by flooding.

Just south of Cedar Rapids in Iowa City, officials said Sunday that the Iowa River was rising slower than expected and they were no longer sure if it would reach the projected crest of 33 or 34 feet. Still, it was already at 31.53 feet, more than 3 feet above the record set in 1993. Flood stage is 25 feet.

About 5,000 residents have been displaced in the Iowa City area that includes neighboring Coralville. The two towns combined have about 78,000 people. Residents were under an overnight curfew.

One of the biggest concerns was the University of Iowa. The Iowa River splits the campus and damage has already been enormous. More than 20 buildings had taken on water, including the art museum, a recital hall and other buildings on what's known as the Arts Campus.

"We've pretty much just abandoned any effort to try and protect the Arts Campus because we are just overwhelmed by the amount of water," university spokesman Steve Parrott said Saturday. "It's just too unsafe."

The university suspended summer classes and told nonessential workers to stay away.

Several hundred people turned out to help campus sandbagging efforts.

"The volunteers have just been incredible," Sullivan said. "Some of these people, they've lost their homes, they've lost their businesses, but they're still down there helping."

Iowa has had a wet spring, and at least 8 inches of rain have fallen since June 6. Next week is expected to be sunny and dry, but forecasters said Cedar Rapids could be in for more thunderstorms.