ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Andrea Seabrook.
Huge swaths of the Midwest are still underwater today. In one of the hardest hit cities, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, hundreds of blocks are submerged. More than 20,000 people have been evacuated. The water there crested at least 12 feet above flood stage. It's down a couple feet today but it washed out a historic bridge and the city's fresh water supply is in danger. In Iowa's capital, the Des Moines River is also starting to recede. But one of the key levees there broke.
Tom Weber of Minnesota Public Radio reports.
TOM WEBER: This morning's breach of the (unintelligible) levee sparked a massive effort to build a second temporary levee. At one point, dump trucks carrying sand were getting police escorts through town. But after a few hours of piling sand along 2nd Avenue, that second levee also broke, which let the water into a residential area where more than 250 homes have been evacuated. Bert Rieber(ph) looks just outside the evacuation area and watched crews work this morning. Even after the breach, he still didn't think the water would get to his house.
Mr. BERT RIEBER: 'Cause you're coming uphill here, then you're coming uphill here. And then our house is up on about a three-foot foundation. So my wife thinks it will but I don't really think it will.
WEBER: Still a little too close for comfort, though, isn't it?
Mr. RIEBER: Oh, it's getting close.
WEBER: But other homeowners weren't as lucky. Shortly after the second levee broke, local TV stations showed helicopter images of water running down neighborhood streets like kids running for the ice cream truck.
Major Mike Wunn is with the Iowa National Guard. He was helping build the levee until it gave.
Major MIKE WUNN (Iowa National Guard): It was a manpower situation this morning. We had all the manpower available that we could use. It was just simply physically they couldn't stop the water.
WEBER: I'm standing at the corner of 2nd Avenue and Hall; it's as far as traffic or the media can go on 2nd Avenue, but if you look about two blocks away, you can see where the road should be. It's currently underwater. The temporary levee that was set up is on the right side of the road. And you can definitely see where the gaps are now, and to the right of that temporary levee, is the football field and the soccer fields for the high school. The high school and all its property are underwater. The left side of the street was dry until this morning, when the temporary levee gave way. A few blocks away, on higher ground, volunteers of all ages helped build sandbags, including 4-year-old Shelby Smith(ph).
Ms. SHELBY SMITH: (Unintelligible) three.
WEBER: That's three bags already?
Ms. S. SMITH: Mm-hmm.
WEBER: Good job. Going to be a professional here in no time.
Ms. BARB SMITH: Yeah, a professional sandbagger. Are you a professional sandbagger, Shelby?
Ms. SMITH: Yes. This is hard work.
WEBER: The house where Shelby lives with her mom Barb and dad Tony are fine, but Barb Smith says there really was no question they'd volunteer. We're Iowans, she said, and Iowans help each other out.
Ms. B. SMITH: I was here yesterday and did about three hours yesterday and then when we woke up this morning and saw that the levee had been compromised, so I said let's go.
WEBER: The levee that broke in Des Moines was the very one officials were most worried about. That's because other levees in the area were built to withstand more water than this one, which is also a hopeful point, according to Des Moines Public Works Director, Bill Stowe.
Mr. BILL STOWE (Des Moines Public Works): Our view is that with river levels continuing to recede, even though that they are at extraordinary high stages, the levee system will be safe.
WEBER: Stowe says he expects about 200 homes will have extensive damage with the levee breach. That's a far cry from Cedar Rapids to the east, where 400 city blocks are underwater and at least 20,000 people evacuated. But for this area of Des Moines, it's also history repeating itself. Many of these same 200 homes where also extensively damaged when the same levee broke in 1993.
For NPR News, I'm Tom Weber in Des Moines.