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Floods and Tornadoes Ravage Midwest

June 12, 2008 at 6:30 PM EDT
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Record rainfall and historic numbers of tornadoes have wreaked havoc on many parts of the Midwest, particularly in Iowa where a Boy Scout camp was decimated and flooding has caused thousands to evacuate. Kwame Holman reports on the widespread damage.

KWAME HOLMAN: The severe weather that has ravaged parts of the Midwest today brought a federal response.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security: This has been a remarkable onslaught of weather, everything from flooding, unbelievable rain, and, of course, tornadoes, all descending at once.

KWAME HOLMAN: Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff was in western Iowa a day after a powerful tornado tore through this Boy Scout campsite, killing four and injuring dozens. The scouts, aged 13 to 18, were attending a leadership retreat when the tornado hit last evening.

ZACH JESSON, Boy Scout: I’ll try and forget it, but I know I will not. But all I can do is hope and pray for the families of the victims.

KWAME HOLMAN: Iowa Governor Chet Culver today praised the Scouts’ reaction.

GOV. CHET CULVER, Iowa: What we’ve learned is that there were some real heroes at the Scout camp. These young men made it into the bunker. They made it into the bunk house.

And then, after the tornado hit directly on the bunk house, they immediately started helping each other in this time of need. They set up their own mini-triage unit, because they’re trained, and that’s what these young leaders have learned how to do, is to take care of each other, especially those in need.

KWAME HOLMAN: While western Iowans grappled with tornado damage, parts of eastern Iowa were underwater. Major flooding was reported in several cities, including Cedar Rapids and Waterloo.

In Cedar Rapids, thousands were evacuated and buildings were flooded when the Cedar River rushed over its banks, leaving many parts of town submerged.

In Kansas, ruined homes and downed trees were all that remained in the paths of tornadoes that ripped through the state yesterday, killing at least two people.

The small town of Chapman was particularly hard-hit. Brad Homman is Dickinson County emergency services director.

BRAD HOMMAN, Emergency Services Director: Early indications estimate that approximately 75 percent to 80 percent of the community was damaged in one way or another. Some of the damage includes — all of the school buildings are severely damaged. We have two churches, one that I’m told is pretty much gone, and numerous homes.

'Seeing history'

KWAME HOLMAN: Tornadoes have struck several Midwestern states in recent days, and repeated downpours have resulted in the worst flooding in 15 years across Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.

Residents have struggled to keep flood waters at bay, as scores of rivers have overflowed. Thousands of homes are inundated, roads are damaged, and levees are at risk of failing.

In Wisconsin, homes along the Fox River were overwhelmed by rising water.

RESIDENT: You don't know what to do. You don't know where to start. You walk in, you look, and you're like, "Where do you go?"

KWAME HOLMAN: In Indiana, the White River overflowed, turning fields into lakes.

KELLY WADSWORTH: We're seeing history right now. I've been here for 37 years, and I've seen the river up and down. I've never seen the river go over the levee, as it has now, and nobody really knows what we're dealing with at this time.

KWAME HOLMAN: The record rainfall and widespread flooding threatened crops, likely to push up already high food prices.

Jerry Bradley farms corn in Wisconsin.

JERRY BRADLEY: I probably had 100 acres underwater in '93, so this is twice as bad. This is the worst I've ever seen it.

KWAME HOLMAN: Today in southeastern Minnesota, residents contended with flooded yards, streets and basements.

RESIDENT: It just keeps coming in, coming in.

KWAME HOLMAN: The National Weather Service forecasts more Midwest rain in the days ahead.