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More Iowans Evacuate as Flooding Increases

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More Iowans Evacuate as Flooding Increases

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More Iowans Evacuate as Flooding Increases

More Iowans Evacuate as Flooding Increases

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The Midwest is preparing for more flooding. People are evacuating their homes and crops have been severely damaged. Host Liane Hansen speaks to Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, who says the devastation is massive and that the state's priority is public safety.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.

Widespread flooding continues to devastate communities across the Midwest. A levee breach in Des Moines yesterday flooded a neighborhood of more than 200 homes, a high school and about three dozen businesses. In Iowa City where flooding has forced 24,000 people from their homes, the Iowa River is projected a rise another five feet before it crests later this week.

In Coralville, resident Jenny Parish wanted to know why Iowa?

Ms. JENNY PARISH (Coralville Resident): What did we do to get on Mother Nature's bad side?

Mr. BRET VOORHEES (Spokesman, Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management): This is a case where Mother Nature has thrown us some curveballs.

HANSEN: Bret Voorhees is the spokesman for Iowa's Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. We reached him in Des Moines.

Mr. VOORHEES: We won one in Cedar Falls where the water came in a little lower than expected. But in Cedar Rapids, they had a bubble along the Cedar River that hit them along with flash flooding of five inches of rain that same day so that resulted in significant damage downtown. So, we still have about a week of a flood fight ahead of us in Iowa and then we will start an enormously long recovery process.

HANSEN: Friday afternoon the floodwaters washed away a massive iron bridge in Sutliff, Iowa. The Sutliff Bridge was 110 years old. It was on the National Registry of Historic Places. Sarah Branneman's(ph) family owned the building next door for decades. She still works at the restaurant there, and she's also a member of the bridge authority.

Ms. SARAH BRANNEMAN: Setting on the front porch of the door, you can see the half of the bridge left. The first span is gone. For big as a structure as it is, we would have never thought that it would've collapsed the way it did.

HANSEN: Branneman says the bridge was at the center of the Sutliff community.

Ms. BRANNEMAN: You know, it really touches a lot of people. Last night, the bridge authority was presented with about $75 from neighbor kids who had set up lemonade stands selling lemonade cookies. The bridge meant a lot to them even as children. You know, I think that shows a lot for the community.

HANSEN: Joining us now is Iowa Governor Chet Culver. Welcome to the program, sir.

Governor CHET CULVER (Democrat, Iowa): Thank you very much for having me.

HANSEN: You declared 83 of Iowa's 99 counties disaster areas? What can you tell us about the damage from the flooding?

Gov. CULVER: It's indescribable. It's absolutely heartbreaking to see the state that I love so much devastated by this horrific natural disaster that has now gone on for three weeks. We've had 16 victims, 16 people killed in two different tornadoes and raging floodwaters in every that has affected 83 Iowa counties in one way or another.

HANSEN: How many people do you imagine, do you calculate have been displaced?

Gov. CULVER: Oh, 1,000. We've evacuated 35,000 people in just Cedar Rapids alone and we have evacuations going on - mandatory or voluntary - in roughly ten different places as we speak. You know, this is not a hundred-year event, it's a 500-year event. It's something that is absolutely beyond anyone's wildest imagination in terms of destruction and devastation.

We are focused on public safety. That is our absolute top priority. We can and we will rebuild and recover but you can't replace a life lost in a flood or a tornado. So we are, you know, fighting on on multiple fronts and that will continue. And our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, with the 16 people who have been killed in the last three weeks in Iowa, with the dozens who have been injured. Especially tragic and heartbreaking was the four Boy Scouts who were killed in Monona County when that tornado hit.

So a lot of pain, a lot of sorrow but at the same time we're resilient, we're strong and we're united. And there are countless heroes out there as we speak fighting the raging floodwaters.

HANSEN: How is the drinking water in some of the flooded places?

Gov. CULVER: Oh, we've got - it's not good - we've got cities that have no drinking water.

HANSEN: What are you being told? Is the worst over?

Gov. CULVER: No. We still have - all of the water has to head south. So, we have nine tributaries, major rivers in Iowa, not including the Mississippi River, which is a whole separate challenge that we'll have to deal with starting on the 18th of this month. And in a few days the estimate is that we will see record flooding beyond 1993 levels, which was our last major flood. Everything near and around and south Burlington, Iowa.

So, we're preparing and we're working hard around the clock and Iowans are tough, resilient and strong and we will work together, not only to get through the rest of this natural disaster but during the rebuilding and recovery phase as well.

Thank you and I've enjoyed visiting with you.

HANSEN: Iowa Governor Chet Culver. Thank you.

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