Flood fears eased in Iowa City Monday, as a string of towns in the state’s south and east along the Mississippi River prepared for new problems caused by a recent bout of torrential rains and bad weather.
In the city of Cedar Rapids, Iowa — among the hardest hit by the flooding thus far — flood waters began to recede Monday although thousands of residents remained unsure as to when they would be able to permanently return to their homes.
“We are taking a step back,” Cedar Rapids Fire Department spokesman Dave Brown told CNN, saying it would be awhile before evacuees would be permitted to go back home. Residents have been allowed to make brief visits back to their homes to retrieve belongings or check on flooding levels.
The Cedar River, which is responsible for much of the flooding in Iowa, fell five inches below its Friday crest of 31.1 feet. Still, more than 1,300 blocks remain underwater in Cedar Rapids and more than 24,000 people have had to flee their homes.
The flooding caused Iowa’s second-largest city to nearly shut off its drinking water supply. Petroleum-laden floodwater contaminated the city’s drinking collection wells, leaving only about 15 million gallons a day for more than 120,000 people.
Iowa City evacuated 5,000 people on Sunday, and 400 homes suffered significant damage. But the river was expected to begin receding Monday night as the threat of new flooding moved toward southeast.
“This is our version of Katrina,” Johnson County Emergency Management spokesman Mike Sullivan told the AP. “This is the worst flooding we’ve ever seen — much worse than 1993.”
State officials also voiced concern Monday for the University of Iowa, in Iowa City. The Iowa River is still rising in the area near the college campus and is expected to crest later Monday or Tuesday. Hundreds of volunteers, many of whom lost their own homes or businesses, worked over the weekend to build a barrier of sandbags around the university, where more than 20 buildings have taken in water.
“I’m focused on what we can save,” University of Iowa President Sally Mason said as she toured her stricken campus, according to the AP. “We’ll deal with this when we get past the crisis. We’re not past the crisis yet.”
In other parts of the Midwest, a series of strong thunderstorms with winds reaching up to 65 mph knocked out power to up to 100,000 homes and businesses in northern Illinois, the utility ComEd told the AP.
Flood waters threatened Illinois towns near the Mississippi river, and hundreds of members of the state’s National Guard used sandbags to block the swollen river on Sunday.
Already, two levees in Keithsburg, Ill., along the Mississippi River, have broken, flooding a town of 700 residents. The National Weather Service said the river was expected to crest Tuesday just above 25 feet. Flood stage in the area is 14 feet.
Floods have severely damaged the corn crop in the Midwest — the world’s largest corn exporter — adding more pressure to already high world food prices, according to media reports. Already, nearly three million acres, or 15 percent, of Iowa’s corn crops have been submerged in water.
Reacting to the probable decrease in corn exports, U.S. corn futures rose more than three percent, a record high and the crop has climbed to a record high of $8 a bushel. The prices of soybeans, wheat and rice have followed suit.