Defying rise of the river

June 22, 2008

Deadly floods devastated Iowa and other sections of the Midwest last week, despite heroic efforts to hold back the rising waters with sandbags. Heavy rains sent rivers surging over their banks, killing 24 people and displacing an estimated 35,000. From Des Moines and Cedar Rapids to small towns such as Oakville (population 439), residents were left assessing the damage to homes and businesses. Officials described the disaster as the biggest that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has handled since Hurricane Katrina.

The impact will be felt for some time. The American Red Cross said the floods, coming on the heels of several mid-level natural disasters this spring, have drained its relief fund, forcing the organization to borrow money for shelters, food and other emergency supplies in six Midwestern states. Scientists, meanwhile, warned that floodwaters loaded with farm runoff are heading down the Mississippi River and could significantly increase this summer's oxygen-starved "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico, covering an area the size of Maryland.

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