Iowa braces for flood crest; Bush to visit region
The midwestern state of Iowa Tuesday was
bracing for flooding to crest in the next 24 hours along the Mississippi River
as the federal government rushed drinking water to the deluged region.
Workers were hastening to reinforce river levees with earth and sand, preparing for the final onslaught in the towns of Keokuk and Burlington, according to broadcast and print media reports.
Extensive damage to the region's major crop, corn, and other foodstuffs was estimated at 2.7 billion dollars, the Des Moines Register reported online.
As US President George W Bush prepared to visit the region on Thursday, the White House said it was concerned about the fallout for grain and livestock prices.
"It's something that we're going to be paying close attention to," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto. "It's too early to say what the exact impact will be. It will certainly cause disruptions, in terms of the food supply coming from that region."
The mighty Mississippi, which drains much of the US Midwest from Minnesota to New Orleans, burst a levee near Gulfport, Illinois, Tuesday morning, releasing some of the force that downstream towns were bracing for, the Des Moines Register reported online.
Helicopters helped rescue rescue several people after the levee broke. The federal government warned that more than a dozen more levees were in danger of breaking.
The Mississippi was expected to crest at 9.3 metres in Keokuk and 8.5 metres in Burlington by 1700 GMT Wednesday - more than 3 metres above major flood stage.
"We're concerned about those who lost their homes and lost their business," Bush said at the White House after meeting with federal disaster officials. "Now that the water is beginning to recede, the question is how do we help with the recovery?"
Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana and Nebraska have been declared federal disaster areas from heavy storms and flooding, triggering low-cost federal loans and grants.
There was some good news. Unbroken days of rain has yielded to the sun, and drier conditions were expected for the Midwest over the coming days.
While towns downstream braced for the crest, waters were draining from cities like Cedar Rapids on the Iowa River, where 25,000 of the 120,000 inhabitants had to flee over past days.
As the flood waters receded, health authorities warned of the toxic residue of sewage and chemicals.
City officials opened some neighbourhoods to residents who wanted to fetch belongings, but only those where debris had been cleared and homes inspected for safety, the Register reported. The city remained under evacuation order.
Only one flood death has been reported so far over the past days - of a person who refused to evacuate.
Nearly a 500-mile section of the Mississippi River was closed to navigation, blockading one of the country's major trade routes.
Two of the country's major east-west Amtrak passenger train routes have also temporarily ceased operations through the region - the Southwest Chief and the famous California Zephyr, dpa reported.