Farm flood damage is 'fact of life'

BY P.J. HELLER | FARRUGUT, IOWA | June 25, 1998

FARRUGUT, IOWA (June 25, 1998) -- Derryl McLaren's farm fields stretch as far as the eye can see.

But instead of corn and soybeans sprouting from the fertile ground in

southwestern Iowa, McLaren today sees only an ocean of water covering his


McLaren's situation in Farragut, Iowa, is typical of many farmers in the

region who found their crops under water following torrential rains and

flash flooding in June.

"This is by far the worst that I've seen," said McLaren, who has been

working the land for 26 years and is a fourth-generation farmer. "I can

recall in my lifetime, nine floods. Only two of them took an entire crop."

Some 950 acres of land - about 35 percent of the total acreage which

McLaren farms with his father and brother - were inundated when waters from

the surging East Nishnabotna River breached the levee system.

For McLaren and other farmers, the timing couldn't have been worse. Had the

rains come earlier, they would have had more opportunity to plant other

crops and salvage some of their losses.

"We have a very small window to go in and plant an alternative crop of some

kind," he explained. "Anything you plant toward the end of June is pretty

dicey in terms of monetary gain."

Nevertheless, McLaren hopes to replace the corn and soybeans with another

crop, most likely sorghum. Federal crop insurance will cover about 75

percent of his losses, he said.

Four of the five southwestern Iowa counties hardest hit by flooding have

been declared state disaster areas by the governor, with the fifth expected

to be added. The governor's action will allow the state to seek federal

disaster aid.

Representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have

been in the area assessing damages, McLaren said.

Faith-based organizations are also assessing the situation to determine

what assistance, if any, they will be able to provide.

"In rural communities like this, the effort by the entire community

naturally involves a lot of churches," he said. "Churches play a prominent


In Griswold, for example, Lutheran Social Services conducted a weekend

cleanup effort. Downstream in Shenandoah, where some 30 to 40 people were

displaced from their mobile homes, efforts were beginning to see how local

churches could help.

"Most of those trailers are not going to be able to be reclaimed, so they

(residents) are going to need some longer term help," said Pastor Steven

Teske of Trinity Lutheran Church in Shenandoah. "We're just starting to

piece together who needs what and how the churches can help."

Teske said that the local ministerial association, composed of some 14 of

the 20 churches in the area, had not met to discuss how or whether to

coordinate efforts. Most of the coordination, he said, has been handled by

the American Red Cross.

"I think it's partly because it really hasn't affected a large number of

people, aside from the farmers," he explained. "It may be a little early to

start assessing what they need and how they're going to be helped."

McLaren said what he needs most is for the water to recede. None of the

buildings on his property suffered water damage, he reported.

McLaren said he was resigned to the fact that his fields would be flooded.

"When you live on a river and farm the ground as we do, you take it as a

fact of life that every once in a while you're going to get flooded," he

said. It doesn't keep you from having a sinking feeling in your stomach

when it happens. You don't feel very good about it. We have a pretty good

sense of humor about it. It won't throw us into a fit of depression.

"It's almost a fact of life," added McLaren, who is also a Republican state

senator representing five of the counties that suffered flood damage.

His dual roles - elected official and survivor of the flood -- put him in

an unusual position, he admits.

"This has been an interesting process," McLaren said. "I suffered

personally in this disaster, too, so when all the media was covering this

flood, I didn't really feel the necessity for a photo opportunity."

Posted June 25, 1998

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