Midwest floods cause hospital evacuation in Iowa

Commercial and industrial buildings are affected greatly due to days of heavy rains: A railroad bridge collapsed and 100 city blocks are underwater in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; homes and businesses are evacuated in Wisconsin; area hotels in Missouri issue water warnings due to malfunctioning wells; and plants across the MIdwest close.


Rising water from the Cedar River forced the evacuation of a Friday, June

The hospital's 176 patients, including about 30 patients in a nursing home facility at the hospital, were being evacuated to other hospitals in the region. The evacuation started late Thursday night and continued Friday morning in the city of 124,000 residents.

Water was seeping into the hospital's lower levels, where the emergency generator is located, said Dustin Hinrichs of the Linn County emergency operations center.

Flooding also closed Interstate 80 from east of Iowa City to Davenport, Iowa. The flooded Cedar River crosses the interstate in Cedar County, about 20 miles east of Iowa City.

In Wisconsin, amphibious vehicles that carry tourists on the Wisconsin River were used to evacuate homes and businesses in Baraboo, north of Madison, Wis. Hundreds of people lost power in Avoca, west of Madison, and were ''strongly encouraged'' to evacuate because of flooding of the Wisconsin River and other streams, said Chief Deputy Jon Pepper of the Iowa County Sheriff's Department.

The rising Fond du Lac River forced hundreds from homes in Fond du Lac, Wis.

People in several northern Missouri communities, meanwhile, were piling up sandbags to prepare for flooding in the Missouri River, expected to crest over the weekend, and a more significant rise in the Mississippi River expected Wednesday.

Amtrak's California Zephyr line was suspended across Iowa because of flooding along the BNSF Railway.

Despite all the water in the town, there was precious little for toilets, cleaning, or drinking.

Area hotels issued water warnings, including the Marriott Hotel, which issued a statement imploring guests to cut their usage and use water only for drinking.

Other Midwestern cities faced similar shortages: Lawrenceville, Ill., a town of 4,600 people near the Indiana line, grappled for a second day Thursday with a broken water system that left businesses with no usable tap water, forcing them to close.

Iowa Gov. Chet Culver declared 83 of the state's 99 counties as state disaster areas. Nine rivers are at or above historic flood levels.

In Des Moines, Iowa, about 300 volunteers and members of the Iowa Army National Guard worked late Thursday into Friday to shore up a levee showing some soft spots north of downtown. The levee protects a neighborhood along the rising Des Moines River.

Also in Iowa, meat processor Tyson Foods Inc. is temporarily suspending work at two hog-slaughtering plants, while farm-equipment maker Deere & Co. was forced by rising rivers to evacuate a foundry in that state. A St. Louis-based riverboat casino on the Mississippi River closed, and a lake at a popular resort in Wisconsin emptied after an embankment burst.

Economic damage
The economic damage extent is uncertain, but the early flooding already is drawing comparisons to the 1993 floods that caused more than $20 billion of damage in the Midwest. The National Weather Service said flood damage probably could reach "hundreds of millions of dollars," but floods are typically slow-rolling disasters, and weeks may pass before their full effect is known. If forecast rain pours down in the next few days, the Mississippi River might reach or exceed levels last seen in 1993.

In many parts of the Midwest, rainfall is above average. In Waterloo, Iowa, for example, nearly 28 in. of rain have fallen so far this year, up from a 30-year average of about 13 in. for the same time period, according to the National Weather Service.

The Midwest economy has avoided several of the problems dogging other parts of the country. For example, the housing bust hasn't been nearly as severe in the nation's center. The farm economy is generating record income, in large part on booming world-wide demand for grain.

The floods, however, are disrupting business across the Midwest. "It certainly puts a damper on that star, there's no doubt about that," said Ernest Goss, a regional economist at Creighton University, in Omaha, Neb. The "impacts, I think, will be fairly significant."

The effects in the Great Plains are likely to ripple throughout the nation. High water flow prompted the Army Corps of Engineers to announce the closure of nine locks this week on the Mississippi River, a vital shipping lane for coal, fertilizer, grains and other commodities whose prices have soared in the past year.

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