Iowa Public Television


Floods Swamp Midwest Towns and Farms

posted on June 13, 2008

Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. Since consumer spending accounts for about two-thirds of the U.S. economy, analysts monitor the figure closely. And data released this week indicated Americans continue to open their pocketbooks, despite higher prices for everything from groceries to gasoline.

The Consumer Price Index grew 0.6 percent in May, its largest increase in six months. However, stripping out the volatile food and energy sectors, core inflation rose a more moderate 0.2 percent.

Meanwhile, retail sales jumped by one percent in May, marking THEIR largest single-month increase since November. Automobile sales rebounded from April's decline to post a slight gain in May.

And, thanks to record gasoline prices, service stations reported a 2.6 percent increase in sales.

Excluding the rise in gasoline costs, retail sales would still have been up by a solid 0.8 percent in May.

While millions of Americans are coping with the pain at the pump, the hardship pales in comparison to the nightmare being endured in parts of the Midwest, where torrential rains have caused epic flooding.

In the Midwest, heavy rain and rising floodwaters swept through small towns and farm fields in the most extensive devastation since the "500-year floods" of 1993. In central Iowa, the bloated Des Moines River crested over flood stage in many areas and threatened the capitol city's levee system.

In eastern Iowa, towns along the Cedar River spent the week fighting to save homes and businesses.

Max Lamb, Waterloo, Iowa: "I hope that levee holds or my business is gone."

But sandbags couldn't prevent entire downtowns in Waterloo and Cedar Rapids, Iowa from being swamped by rising waters. A combination of heavy winter snowfall and extensive spring rains have kept much of the Midwest at flood stage for months. Entire communities could spend much of the summer cleaning up. The economic damage could be even worse.

The high waters in Iowa will eventually dump into the Mississippi River basin, a main shipping lane for grain supplies. The Army Corp. of Engineers has shut down more than 200 miles of barge traffic along the Mississippi River south of Davenport, Iowa and north of St. Louis, Missouri. The decision keeps upper-Mississippi terminals plugged with grain and empty barges idling downstream.

Rural farmers, already under economic pressure from high fuel prices, now must wrestle with devastated crops.

Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa: "This is not just isolated in Iowa. When you look at what is happening in Illinois and a third of Indiana is under water today. While there are probably still some soybean options, corn planting is probably dead for the year right now."

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