Residents surrender homes, offices to river as deluge overcomes city
‘500-year flood’ claims 20 lives in U.S. Midwest
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa •
Rising flood water swamped this midwestern river city yesterday, forcing residents to flee their homes, and officials to abandon city hall amid a wider crisis that has left 20 dead in the region.
“We’ve been in a major flood fight for about 10 days now,” Bret Voorhees, spokesman for the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management, told AFP.
“Nine of our major rivers are at record or new record levels. We’re designating it a 500-year flood.”
Des Moines, the state capital, with a population of 200,000, urged its residents living within the “500-year flood zone” to evacuate, as the Des Moines River was expected to rise to near the top of the levee.
A total of 15 lives have been lost in Iowa and thousands were left homeless, Mr. Voorhees said, while 10 counties are under evacuation orders and 83 of the state’s 99 counties have been declared disaster areas.
Two people were killed by flood water in Indiana and two delivery people drowned Sunday when their car fell off a washed-out road into a flooded creek, the U.S. National Weather Service said. Another person was killed Wednesday when a tornado ripped through the town of Chapman, Kansas.
The disaster began when a major tornado struck on May 25. It was followed by heavy rain, with more thunderstorms expected this weekend, and on Wednesday another twister touched ground in western Iowa, killing four boy scouts.
Serious flooding has hit the entire region, including parts of South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, and was expected to continue through next week. At least 53 locations in those states were expected to see “major flooding” in the next two days, the weather service said.
“We’re trapped with nowhere to go,” said Gloria Hines, who lives about a dozen blocks from where the river spilled over in Cedar Rapids. The flood water had not reached her home yet, but the street was made impassable by water gushing out of storm drains.
The U.S. National Guard was called in to help an army of volunteers with sandbagging and rescue efforts.
A boat ride through Cedar Rapid’s water-logged down- town saw every organ of government crippled by the floods.
The library, the federal building and city hall were all filled with water, which rippled through basements and pulled files and furniture out through the windows. Inmates in the county jail were evacuated, along with their mattresses.
On one building, clutching the cats that nearly cost them their lives, perched Charles Schmitt, 19, and his girlfriend, Kayla Lambreacht. They had fled their nearby home when the basement filled with water.
But when they stopped to take a picture, one of the cats jumped into the river, prompting them to go in after it.
Clutching two storage bins, they floated for 45 minutes before climbing into the building.
“We were up there for two hours,” Mr. Schmitt said.