STEVE INSKEEP, host:

If you were able to get a look at the University of Iowa in Iowa City over the weekend, you would see something like this: Sixteen buildings were flooded, including the museum of art, the theater and music buildings, the campus chapel, the student union, two research labs and several residence halls. Other buildings were locked down, without power or sandbagged against possible flooding.

The Iowa River cuts through the heart of the university. Severe rainstorms over the past week swelled the river to a new record, and yesterday, the river finally stabilized at 31-and-a-half feet, which is still nine feet above the flood stage. NPR's Martin Kaste has this report from Iowa City.

MARTIN KASTE: Gasoline-powered pumps are running night and day on the University of Iowa campus. Late last night, university maintenance employee Dwight Moss was manning one near the steam power plant. He says the plant already had been flooded, but the fight now is to keep that water from spreading.

Mr. DWIGHT MOSS (Maintenance Employee, University of Iowa): We're keeping the water out of the steam tunnels to prevent water from entering other buildings - on campus, correct, they're all connected.

KASTE: So the steam tunnels will be sort of the weak spot for the whole campus, because the water would just come in through the steam tunnels.

Mr. MOSS: Correct.

KASTE: So what's the status right now in the steam tunnels?

Mr. MOSS: We're doing - we're keeping up. We're actually gaining ground. We gained a couple inches since we came on at six o'clock.

KASTE: The people of Iowa City are starting to let themselves hope they've held off the worst of the flooding. Still, this is a river they don't recognize anymore.

(Soundbite of flowing water)

KASTE: This usually placid, Midwestern river had developed churning rapids. Of the five bridges in town, only two were open, including this one, the Burlington Street bridge. But it's just barely open. The whitewater was just inches below the metal deck.

National Guard Sergeant Ben Burns said so far, so good.

Sergeant BEN BURNS (National Guard): I know that there's bridge inspectors out here all the time checking it out, and they have it open right now.

KASTE: There's an 8:30 p.m. curfew in areas affected by the flooding here, but that doesn't stop some locals from coming down to the bridge to gawk at the whitewater lit up by a nearly full moon.

Unidentified Woman: Wow. It's definitely scary, like seriously. Like this is like, there are likes waves in the river.

KASTE: Alicia Rosenow and Danielle Geiger from the nearby town of Lone Tree have come down for a look. They said Iowa is living its own version of Hurricane Katrina. Their neighborhood has not been flooded, but they've suddenly found that they can't travel around their state very easily anymore.

Unidentified Woman: We're kind of stranded there, really, because, I mean, all roads leaving, you know, out of there are basically closed, and now that the one that they do have open, you know, you're having to drive how many miles out of your way, you know, to get to your destination.

KASTE: The peak water levels are now moving downriver, but the people in this part of Iowa remain focused on keeping up their sandbag defenses against the still-high waters. But they've also started thinking about the damage they'll find when the waters finally recede.

The governor's office has estimated that 36,000 people had been forced out of their homes by these floods, most of those in the Cedar Rapids area. And then there's the mess to clean up in flooded fields and roadways, and of course, the as-of-yet unknown damage to bridges like this one, which have never been immersed in water this deep. Martin Kaste, NPR News, Iowa City.

INSKEEP: And as we heard, Cedar Rapids has been hit hard by floods. More than a thousand city blocks have submerged. Tracey Keist, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross, says the destruction is far from over.

Ms. TRACEY KEIST (Spokeswoman, Red Cross): It's not ending. It's just continuing. It's getting bigger, and it's just, it's devastating for Iowans to deal with this.

INSKEEP: Now the water may be beginning to recede, but residents have only begun to get a first look at the damage inside their homes.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.