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No stopping the water in Iowa

June 13, 2008|From the Chicago Tribune

CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA — Officers abandoned the police station Thursday as floodwaters surrounded their headquarters. Elected officials fled City Hall. Boxcars laden with rocks and sand tumbled like toys into the rising Cedar River when a railroad bridge gave way.

This city of more than 120,000 people was under siege.

By nightfall, 3,000 families were homeless. The Iowa National Guard patrolled to enforce a curfew, and efforts continued to rescue residents.

The Cedar River was expected to crest today, but new downpours could mean the crest might not come until at least Sunday, officials said.

The storms were even more intense around nearby Iowa City, where the University of Iowa faces the threat of devastating flooding.

"Our predictions of a 100-year flood, or greater, are really coming to pass," Iowa City Mayor Regenia Bailey said.

In Cedar Rapids, nothing stopped the water. Sandbags didn't help. Neither did levees. Even areas miles from the river suffered as sewers backed up, sending contaminated streams into the streets.

"We're trapped, with nowhere to go," said Gloria Hines, who lives a dozen blocks from where the river overflowed.

Water gushing from storm drains made her street impassable. Small fish spilled out of the overwhelmed sewers.

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