Record flooding hits Iowa communities

BY GEORGE PIPER | NASHUA, Iowa | July 21, 1999


NASHUA, Iowa (July 21, 1999) -- It's safe to say sandbags outnumber the

residents in Nashua, where people worked at a frantic pace Wednesday to save

the town from the rising Cedar River.

Emergency Management Coordinator Ken Rasing spent the morning in the

southwest Chickasaw County town, directing a flood fight to help keep the

river from dividing Nashua in half. Water is finding its way around the

town's dam and is collecting throughout the area. Locals sandbagged homes in

hopes of keeping floodwaters out.

The Cedar and Wapsipinicon rivers and small creek caused flooding in every

city and town in Chickasaw County, said Rasing. Property damage estimates

would be a wild guess now, and he wonders how high the water will go.

"Right now, it's just more of a wait and see," Rasing said.

Chickasaw County is not alone in its flood worries. Seven other counties

received state disaster declarations after double-digit rainfall from Sunday

through Tuesday threaten to bring record flood levels to north central and

northeast Iowa. On Monday, the state declared Cerro Gordo, Floyd, Mitchell

and Worth counties as disasters and added Bremer, Butler, Chickasaw and

Howard counties today. One death is blamed on the flooding.

River levels had been falling after rain ended on Monday, but several inches

of fresh rain Tuesday sent water over banks and into nearby communities.

In Mason City, police captain Michael Halverson said the Winnebago River is

4.5 feet above its 7-foot flood stage and could crest to 16 feet -- topping

the high mark of 15.5 feet in 1933. No evacuations have been ordered, but

Halverson said that might change if river level predictions come true.

Street and basements are flooded throughout Mason City, he said, and towns

throughout Cerro Gordo County are reporting property damage.

Officials today ordered evacuations in Charles City in Floyd County, where

the Cedar River's level is reported at 22.5 feet -- one foot higher than the

city's record flooding in 1993.

The Worth County town of Manly, which received 13 inches of rain on Monday,

evacuated several residents, with some 100 people taking shelter at the

Bethel United Methodist Church.

The state is sending sandbags -- the biggest need right now -- to the eight

counties, and preparing for requests from downriver communities not yet

affected, said John Benson, spokesman for the Iowa Emergency Management

Division. The Iowa National Guard moved 40,000 sandbags to flooded areas

"Obviously, we're got ongoing flood fights up there," he said. "With the

rainfall (on Tuesday), several cities are going to set flood records."

The American Red Cross is feeding people in at least eight Iowa towns and is

distributing clothes to survivors, while local Salvation Army workers are

providing similar services.

In May, at least 1,100 homes sustained damage from flooding that stretched

from Dubuque to Waterloo in eastern Iowa. The eastern most counties in the

May disaster likely will receive less water than two months ago, said

Benson, although Waterloo has potential for record flooding. State officials

are trying to determine if the area will qualify for a federal disaster

declaration, but Benson noted that damage assessments haven't been taken yet

given the inaccessibility to still-flooded communities.

"When you have a disaster that happens this quick and of this magnitude,

that becomes a concern," he said.

Flooding isn't the only disaster to hit Iowa this week. Heat advisories

cover much of the state's southern half, with heat indexes expected to hit

110 in Des Moines. And on Tuesday, about 5,000 people were evacuated in Iowa

City when a corrosive chemical spilled while being unloaded at a factory

that makes shampoo and toothpaste. No injuries were reported.

Posted July 21, 1999


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