Midwest Flooding Forces Evacuations, Bridge Closings, Business Shutdowns

June 12, 2008

Flooding rivers across Iowa forced residents to evacuate, closed businesses, wrecked stores and shut down highways and barge traffic, authorities said Thursday.

Iowa Gov. Chet Culver said storm and water damage to infrastructure will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, as dozens of bridges have been damaged or destroyed. Nine rivers were at or near record levels, he said. More rain has been forecast for the coming days.

“It hits everything. Colleges are shut down, stores, it’s devastating,” said Lisa Fox, vice president of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry.

“Cedar Rapids is completely shut down,” she said of Iowa’s second-largest city, where dozens of city blocks were flooded and a rail bridge collapsed. “It’s going to be a long-term recovery.”

On top of the marauding floodwaters, deadly tornadoes struck Iowa and neighboring Kansas Wednesday night, killing six people, including four boys at a Boy Scout camp in Iowa.

“This has been a remarkable onslaught of weather — everything from flooding, unbelievable rain and of course tornadoes — all descending at once,” Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff told reporters near the scout camp.

Chertoff said government relief would be forthcoming but the department also needed to keep some resources in reserve with the onset of hurricane season.

In contrast to recent Midwest tornadoes that have claimed dozens of lives, there were only a few drowning deaths attributed to the flooding in the past week as most residents heeded warnings to evacuate. but the region’s economy was battered by the destruction and disruption caused by the flooding.


Levee failures have forced thousands out of their homes and others piled up sandbags to hold back still-cresting rivers.

A section of a key East-West highway, Interstate 80, will be closed Friday for several days, and Iowa officials urged truckers to avoid traversing the state. Some 33,000 vehicles use the stretch of road every day.

Several factories were shut down in Iowa and neighboring states either because they lacked power or workers could not reach them.

Among the closures in Iowa was a Deere & Co facility in Waterloo, a Cargill corn processing facility, livestock slaughtering plants operated by Tyson Foods, and several grain elevators and processors.

One of the industries hardest hit was agriculture.

Submerged fields in parts of five Midwest states and no sign of a significant change in the wet weather pattern drove corn prices at the Chicago Board of Trade to another record high above $7 a bushel.

Those prices will cheer farmers, but not if their crop shrinks. This year’s average corn crop yield was cut 3 percent by the U.S. Department of Agriculture earlier in the week.

“It’s the worst in recent memory, at a time when demand has never been higher” for food, feed and to supply ethanol plants, said Gavin Maguire, an analyst with Iowa Grain in Chicago.

“We can’t rule out $8 corn at all. We haven’t even gotten to the critical growing phase for the corn crop — we’re above $7, having just finished planting. If we have a real burning July, anything goes, in terms of price,” he said.

“The only thing changing with this weather pattern is that we’re going from wet and mild to wet and cool,” said Mike Palmerino, forecaster with DTN Meteorlogix.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Thursday shut down two of nine locks due to flooding on the upper Mississippi River, stalling barge traffic on 200 miles of the vital waterway. In 2006, nearly 500 million tons of goods worth billions of dollars — led by farm-related products, oil products and coal — were shipped on the Mississippi.

George Stringham, a spokesman for the corps, said projected crests on the Mississippi were the highest since an epic 1993 flood.

In Cedar Rapids, where residents were told to be ready to flee if the Cedar River bursts through strained levees, one man was spotted mowing his lawn in the shadows of a barrier.

“What else can you do?” Brian Moeller said.

(Additional reporting by Andrew Stern, Chris Stebbins, Julie Ingwersen, Mark Weinraub, Bob Burgdorfer, Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Peter Bohan)

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