Iowa Public Television

 

Battle With Mother Nature Not Over

posted on June 20, 2008


Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. Thanks, in large part, to rising fuel prices, tighter credit and a depressed housing market, a private business group is forecasting the U.S. economy will continue to limp along at a snail's pace for the rest of 2008.

The New York-based Conference Board said this week its Index of Leading Economic Indicators rose 0.1 percent in May. The index is designed to forecast economic activity in the next three to six months.

The Labor Department reported this week its Producer Price Index, which measures the costs of goods before they reach store shelves, shot up 1.4 percent last month. That marked its biggest increase since November.

And the number of new housing projects started in May fell 3.3 percent to its slowest pace in 17 years.

While a new home is a dream for many Americans, thousands of Midwesterners would be thankful to return to their old residence. Unfortunately, the worst flooding in at least 15 years is making that impossible.

After weeks of rain it was clear the rivers in five Midwestern states were going to rise higher than the levees. Millions of sandbags were set in anticipation. The water came up and people were forced to evacuate their homes and farms throughout the Midwest.

Officials with Iowa's Homeland Security and Emergency Management estimate more than 38,000 residents were evacuated to higher ground including 25,000 from Cedar Rapids alone.

In places where the water has gone down, citizens returned to their homes for the unpleasant job of clean-up. This scene has been repeated countless times over the past two weeks and the battle with Mother Nature is far from over.

Many government officials predict damages from the floods of 2008 will eclipse the $20 billion tallied in 1993. The devastation has reached epic proportions. Much of the land around Midwestern rivers in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, and Wisconsin is underwater. Parts of major cities and millions of acres of farmland have been decimated. Several food processors have been shut down since last week waiting for the waters to recede and any repairs to be completed.

83 of Iowa's 99 counties have been declared disaster areas by Iowa's governor Chet Culver.

Governor Chet Culver, D-Iowa: 14:37:11:07 "We are a determined people, we are hard working and we love this state and because of that I have the level of confidence I do about the future of Iowa as well."

And President Bush, who visited Iowa on Thursday, has declared more than 50 of the Hawkeye state's counties federal disaster areas. That makes everyone living in those counties eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA funds.

President George W. Bush: "I tell people that, you know, often times you you get a hand you didn't expect to have to play, and the question is not whether you're going to get dealt the hand. The question is how do you play it. And I'm confident the people of Iowa will play it really well."

So far, more than 28,000 people have applied for FEMA funds in Iowa, Indiana, and Wisconsin and the government estimates less than 10 percent have flood insurance. The White House is asking Congress for $1.8 billion in flood aid for the Midwest.

In Iowa, hundreds of miles of roads and bridges have been underwater and the State Department of Transportation has yet to estimate a figure on total damages.

Dena Fisher, Iowa Department of Transportation: "What we're looking at is a huge impact to the whole tranportation system and this is where you realize how intermodel we are today and how everything is networked and connected."

Besides the destruction of county, state, and federal roads, the railroads that serve the Midwest have had route disruptions due to flooding. Several bridges and countless miles of track have been either damaged or washed away. According to Union Pacific Railroad officials, delays in shipping are expected.

Dena Fisher, Iowa Department of Transportation: "The railroad companies in Iowa are very rapid in trying to restore service or look at diversion routes where that's possible. At some points during this flooding that wasn't even possible. There just weren't other diversion points to move freight."

Surprisingly, there have been a limited number of deaths and injuries. Since June 6, 24 people have been killed and 148 injured in flooding and severe weather incidents.

As the waters recede in Eastern Iowa, the Mississippi River is on the rise. The Army Corps of Engineers has closed a 280 mile stretch of the river for at least another 10 days. Barge operators along the Mighty Miss will play the waiting game with some companies losing as much as $40,000 per day.

Larry Daily, Alter Barge Lines Inc.: "Well this closure kind of caught us by surprise. We had one in May and we kind of expected that one a little more, but what this one has done has catch about 100 of my barges here in the middle part of the upper Mississippi River, and two of my boats. So right now we're loosing about $25,000 a day and that will probably go up to close to $40,000 a day by the end of the week, because I'll have some more vessels getting to where they can't proceed anymore."

Further down the river, Corps and FEMA officials are expecting the lower part of the Mississippi River to absorb the increased water flow without much impact. Once the water recedes, FEMA officials are planning to help with debris removal, oil and hazardous material cleanup as well as health and medical support.

Though The Army Corps and FEMA are expecting an additional 20 to 30 levee breaks further down river. But rather protecting heavily populated towns, the levees in danger are located in more rural areas.


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