Midwest Underwater, but Some Rivers Falling

By Kari Lydersen and Anne Hull
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, June 15, 2008

DES MOINES, Iowa, June 14 -- Floodwaters broke through an aging levee here Saturday, swallowing a section of the city's northeast side where authorities had evacuated about 200 homes and 35 businesses, as severe flooding continued to plague the state and other parts of the Midwest.

The rising Des Moines River pushed through a clay levee in an industrial area around 3:15 a.m. City officials had feared that the barrier would fail and immediately began constructing a 2,000-foot-long sand berm to protect the adjacent Birdland Park residential neighborhood.

But water broke through the berm around 7 a.m., forcing the half-dozen residents who had not complied with Wednesday's voluntary evacuation order to leave.

The water swamped much of North High School, which sits along the river, and rose to just inches below traffic lights. Police cordoned off the area and kept homeowners out.

City administrators offered free tetanus shots and warned residents of the risk of infection from contact with the water.

No injuries or fatalities were reported. Residents and officials said the city was well prepared for this disaster because of improvements and readiness plans made after the historic Midwest flood of 1993.

In Cedar Rapids, authorities raised the number of evacuees to 24,000 and said it will be days before business owners and residents can return to check on their property. The Cedar River, which crested Friday at 31 feet, receded four feet by Saturday afternoon, but severe thunderstorms jeopardized efforts to assess the safety of flooded buildings.

The city of 120,000 was functioning with just 25 percent of its normal water supply because several city wells were submerged, said Troy Price, communications director for Gov. Chet Culver.

"Cedar Rapidians are being encouraged to conserve water," he said.

Law enforcement and Iowa National Guard members spent Saturday setting up checkpoints around the perimeter of the flooded area, which covered more than 1,000 city blocks. The river cut through the heart of downtown and submerged commercial and industrial areas.

Mike Goldberg, a spokesman for Linn County Emergency Management, said that the receding water is good news for Cedar Rapids but that the city faces another phase of the disaster as authorities try to keep business owners and residents from returning to an unsafe area.

"You've got hazards everywhere," Goldberg said. "A manhole cover blown off and you don't see it, and you go 10 feet down. We've got contaminants in the water, chemicals in the water."

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