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Midwest Suffers Heavy Flooding Along Mississippi River

June 13, 2008 at 6:10 PM EST
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The U.S. Midwest is currently suffering through heavy floods, especially in Iowa, after a bout of torrential rains. Kwame Holman reports on the scope of the disaster and efforts to curb the dangerous floods.
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TRANSCRIPT

RAY SUAREZ: Now, Iowa and other states in the Midwest try to cope with more flooding, more pain, and more loss. NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman narrates our report.

KWAME HOLMAN: Emergency workers in Cedar Rapids raced to help residents for a second day, as the city staggered under the weight of devastating floods.

Rising waters from the Cedar River forced the evacuation of 19,000 people from 7,000 homes and buildings, including this hospital.

Downtown, the city hall was one of many buildings partially submerged. The floods led to the collapse of a railroad bridge, closed roads, and left many residents wading through the waters and searching for a place to stay.

FLOOD VICTIM: I slept outside last night, but I don’t know where to go, man. I don’t know where to go.

FLOOD VICTIM: We didn’t get nothing out. And then we was told last minute we had to leave, so our house is gone and everything in it.

KWAME HOLMAN: Some stacked sandbags. Others went to public shelters.

FLOOD VICTIM: He’s unemployed. We have no home to go back to. And I don’t know what we’re going to do from here.

KWAME HOLMAN: Through Midwest floods of past decades, including the great flood of 1993, the Cedar River largely stayed within its banks, sparing Cedar Rapids from the worst.

The flooding from this week’s heavy rains, however, hit the city hard and also forced rivers throughout the state to over-crest, inundating population centers such as Waterloo, Iowa City, and Des Moines.

Today, as Des Moines residents fought already-high water, officials warned the city’s levees were in danger of being topped within hours.

BILL STOWE, Director of Public Works, Des Moines: One concern is that we’ll overtop the levee. Another concern is that the levee will fail in some area. Both of them have extraordinary concern for us.

A few days ago, we were talking about days and feet. Now we’re talking about inches and hours. Any of you who’ve been in the downtown area know that we are perilously close to overtopping the levee in the downtown area.

KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, in western Iowa, families continued to grieve from this week’s other tragedy: the deaths of four Boy Scouts who died Wednesday when their campground was ripped apart by a tornado.

A memorial vigil was held last night. Sharon Thomsen lost her son, Sam.

SHARON THOMSEN: It’s been a real blessing to see all the people that Sam impacted just rallying around us. It’s very touching, the stories that are coming out. And we know, you know, he had a purpose, has a purpose still. We’re very confident of that.

KWAME HOLMAN: Several other Midwestern states, including Wisconsin and Illinois, continued to deal with flooding troubles of their own, as the Mississippi, Missouri, and other smaller rivers swelled.

In Illinois, families gathered in the town of Antioch, warily watching the waters approach their homes and land.

In Wisconsin, a number of counties had high water, forcing people into shelters. Southern Wisconsin’s Fox River overflowed, saturating homes and destroying possessions.

DAVID SCHRACK: It’s all garbage. It’s all sewer water, and they told us to get rid of it, because it can’t be cleaned or disinfected.

KWAME HOLMAN: Rick Debowski lives in Milwaukee County.

RICK DEBOWSKI: Everything was soaking wet. The carpet was ruined. The paneling, the cabinetry, electronics, everything was a total loss.

KWAME HOLMAN: Federal emergency management teams fanned out in five Wisconsin counties to assess damage and provide advice.

GAY RUBY, FEMA Spokeswoman: What happens is an 800 number would be set up. And then homeowners, renters, or businesses could avail themselves of some of the services of FEMA.

KWAME HOLMAN: The scope of the damage could grow this weekend for some towns. More rain is expected.