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Flooding spreads through eastern IA

BY SUSAN KIM | DEWITT, IA | July 29, 1999

DEWITT, IA (July 29, 1999) -- As river warnings were extended downstream

toward central Iowa, flooding has spread throughout the entire eastern

central half of the state.

With some 3,000 homes damaged and one person killed, the floods aren't

stopping. Four counties have been declared federal disaster areas, and

another seven have been declared by the state.

As damage and destruction increases, the scope of response will widen, said


While federal and state emergency management officials, the American Red

Cross, and the Salvation Army work to meet initial needs, faith-based

response teams are getting ready to deal with long-term needs. "They're

going to have to spread their attention from the northwest all the way to

the northeast corner of the state," said Linda Reed Brown, a regional

disaster response coordinator with Church World Service.

Faith-based response efforts are being organized under the umbrella of the

Iowa Interfaith Disaster Recovery Network (IIDRN), which is allocating

funds primarily in the form of individual grants for survivors who have

unmet needs. The organization will coordinate volunteers who can tend to

survivors' emotional needs as well.

Tornadoes in May and flooding all summer have not only stretched IIDRN's

cash resources but also its staff and volunteers.

"More field offices and local organizations will be created, and in the

next few days there will be more networking to see who is most qualified to

help, and who is available to volunteer," said Brown. Many of IIDRN's local

branches had just closed the books on recovery from 1998 floods.

Many people are volunteering their time in addition to working their

regular jobs, she added. "These are people ready to take on extra work and

extra responsibility to help facilitate disaster response," she said. "They

see helping their neighbors as a priority, and that's wonderful."

Iowa's many rural communities will have unique and pressing needs during

the recovery. Already, many farmers have lost this year's crop -- even

those who were able to plant a second time after being flooded out last


In DeWitt, located in the east-central part of the state, the Wapsipinicon

River crested Tuesday afternoon, threatening homes and businesses.

In nearby Grand Mound, residents also warily watched the river. The Rev.

Larry Pruitt, pastor at God's Family Baptist Church, said they also prayed

for people in DeWitt they knew were in trouble.

"We have a farmer we've been praying for. This is the third time he's been

flooded out. He planted corn two times, then he had to plant beans because

it was too late to replant corn. Now he'll probably lose all his crops this


Pruitt added that, when farmers lose their crops, the whole community is

affected. "When a farmer loses his crops, he doesn't buy equipment that

year, and he doesn't buy the other things he normally would, so the price

of feed goes sky-high, and the price of meat goes up. We're all in this


Residents downstream said that hearing about the destruction upstream

provokes high anxiety. "One thing's for sure - when up north gets nine

inches of rain, you know you're eventually going to get it," said Barbara

Colbert, another resident of Grand Mound.

Even people who have never been flooded are facing damage. Steve Zimmerman,

state coordinating officer for Iowa Emergency Management, said that, unlike

past floods, the current disaster is a result of torrential rains that

create a flash-flood situation.

"In '93, we had rain, rain, rain. The floods were a slow rise," he said.

"But now we're getting eight inches of rain in half an hour. That results

in almost a flash flood situation."

"We're trying to tell people early on what's going to happen downstream,

because, in some areas, sandbagging works well to protect homes and


But sandbagging can be physically dangerous, especially since Iowa is still

under sweltering 95-degree temperatures, part of the heat wave that is

pressing on the whole eastern half of the nation. Heat advisories continue

in southern Iowa, with temperatures in the 90s and the heat index

approaching 110 in Des Moines.

While the National Guard and state emergency management officials have led

sandbagging efforts, residents themselves have loaded more than 40,000

sandbags to protect their towns.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has declared Black Hawk, Butler,

Jones and Woodbury counties as federal disaster areas, with state

declarations for Bremer, Cerro Gordo, Chickasaw, Floyd, Mitchell, Howard

and Worth counties.

Posted July 29, 1999

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