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Archive for Monday, June 16, 2008

Iowa communities bracing for crest of Mississippi River

June 16, 2008

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— While Iowans battle flooding in small towns and larger cities, residents along the Mississippi River are trying to tame the power of North America's largest river as it swells with water from the Iowa and Cedar Rivers, as well as heavy flows from Illinois waterways.

Iowa Gov. Chet Culver said the Mississippi would be the next battleground.

"It's likely we'll see major flooding in every city on the border, from New Boston on down. We're very concerned about that," he said. "That is going to be the next round here."

Officials predict the Mississippi will crest along the Iowa-Illinois border by Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on the exact location.

On the Illinois side, towns like Biggsville, Ill., and Gulfport, Ill., already have been swamped. The bridge has been closed at Quincy, and more will surely follow.

In tiny Gulfport, population 500, John Gustafson hardly needed the warning to evacuate: He and his family spent Saturday night at his in-laws' house.

"The water was too high even then to be comfortable," said Gustafson, 44.

The Gustafsons, who also evacuated during the 1993 flood, said this would be the last time. "My wife says we're not coming back, regardless of what happens," he said.

At the nearby Archer Daniels Midland grain elevator nearby, several dozen volunteers worked to fill sandbags, which recreational vehicles ferried along the levee. If this levee were to fail, more than 10,000 acres of farmland could be washed out, leading to $2 million of local crop loss, estimated Russell Torrance, a farmer and levee commissioner.

Mike Johnson, a farmer volunteering Sunday, said such a washout would be especially painful this year, when corn sits at a record $7 a bushel, and soybeans trade at around $15 a bushel.

Nearly 36,000 Iowans, in 11 counties, have been forced to evacuate their homes this past week, with Cedar Rapids residents accounting for about 24,000 of them. Gov. Culver has declared 83 of Iowa's 99 counties as disaster areas and hundreds of roads remain closed because of flooding.

Much attention has focused on the flood damage to cities such as Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, but the state's smaller communities face an equally long road to recovery.

Columbus Junction, for instance, shoulders the unfortunate geographic distinction of sitting at the confluence of the Iowa and Cedar rivers. Residents here spent 2 1/2 days last week filling 100,000 sandbags - stacking them 10 feet high and half a mile long - only to have the river swallow their quaint downtown Saturday night.

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