(Story updated at 1 p.m.)
Governor Chet Culver says flooding across the state is presenting a "significant challenge." Thirty-one of Iowa’s 99 counties are experiencing flooding. Mason City’s water treatment plant was swamped this weekend by the surging Winnebago River, leaving residents without drinking water and three of the four bridges in the town of Charles City were swept away by the flooding Cedar River.
"This is not just a Mason City challenge. It’s not just a north Iowa challenge," Culver says. "We’re dealing with a statewide event."
Fifteen tanker trucks of drinking water are headed to Iowa. Five of those tankers are going to Mason City. In addition, two "health trailers" from Minneapolis are helping provide clean water to the hospital in Mason City.
Damage in a dozen counties — the hardest-hit by this latest round of flooding — is being assess as that’s a step which must occur to determine if a federal district declaration can be made. The governor predicts damage from flooding alone — apart from tornado damage, will be in the tens of millions of dollars. "We really, again, appreciate the support and cooperation of the Federal Emergency Management (Agency). Their teams have been extremely helpful, working around the clock not only in Iowa but across much of the Midwest and so I think patience is also critically important when it comes to assessments and figuring out precisely the extent of the damage," Culver says. "Our most immediate concern, of course, is public safety."
Congressman Tom Latham of Ames talked with White House staff by phone about this weekend’s storm damage in his district. "One great thing we can say today is that no one has died, no serious injuries and that certainly is a credit to the great response to the public service, public safety folks in the area," Latham says.
Latham promises to "do everything" he can to ensure flood victims get whatever federal help is available. "It, to me, is a little bit ironic. Last year I had gotten $100,000 to look at flood mitigation with the Army Corps of Engineers with the Winnebago River," Latham says. "We have another request in for this year…to address the problem that we have here today."
Mason City’s not on the only town in Iowa to have drinking water woes.The city of Nashua’s water treatment plant is down due to problems with a dike. Three-fourths of the town of New Hartford has been evacuated. A gym on the nearby University of Northern Iowa campus is serving as an evacuation shelter for New Hartford residents.
Farm fields around the state have been drenched; some tiny corn and soybean plants are underwater. Culver suggests the fall harvest may be dampened by these June storms. "Until this most recent round of storms, the ag impact was not as significant as one might have thought," Culver says. "Certainly now it’s a different story."
Latham agrees the storms will have a "real impact" on the fall harvest. "This is not just isolated in Iowa. When you look at what’s happening in Illinois; about a third of Indiana’s underwater today — agricultural areas across the country that certainly for corn production have a dramatic impact," Latham says."…While there’s still some options (for farmers) going to soybeans, corn planting is probably dead for the year right now."
Latham does not expect federal disaster payments to farmers, as he says federal crop insurance will be the option to buoy farmers who suffer financially from the flooding. "When you see 80-acre, almost entire farms under water it’s absolutely incredible what’s out there and…we’re not going to be able to assess the damage for a period of time," Latham says. "How quickly the water recedes will have a big impact."
Culver toured flood-ravaged Mason City this morning; his afternoon stops were Clear Lake and Charles City. Late this afternoon Culver plans to stop at the evacuation shelter in Cedar Falls where New Hartford residents are housed. "We want to encourage all residents impacted and those businesses to keep receipts. Obviously, that is critically important in terms of federal and state assistance," Culver says. "With everything going on, all the concerns and again, all our thoughts and prayers are with those impacted by this severe flooding, but please take the time to try to the extent possible to do your own assessment in terms of the damage and document any expenses that you have incurred because of this disaster."
Culver, Latham and the mayor of Mason City soke at a midday news conference in Mason City. Click on the audio link below to listen to their comments.