Across the river, less than a mile away, their neighbors in tiny Fredonia were under water. The town's nearly 250 residents were being evacuated by truck and, in some cases, boat.
Columbus Junction had two days' worth of bottled drinking water for its residents, many of whom live high enough above the river to feel safe staying in their homes. Those who live in the lower elevations have already been evacuated. The town has become a peninsula, with only one main road still offering a clear way out.
Even that might not last. Thunderstorms to the north brought pouring rain and pounding hail, further swelling both rivers. The Iowa was expected to crest here by Monday, topping out at 35 feet.
On Saturday morning, the water lapped at the elevated railroad tracks on the edge of town, at 32 feet.
"Even after the river crests, it'll be days and days before the river goes back down," Wilson said. "It could be a week or longer before the water's back. We're beyond protecting property. We're now about protecting people, and getting people on high ground."
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The Midwest is facing its worst flooding in 15 or more years. Hardest hit has been Iowa, which has gotten at least 8 inches of rain in the last week and where nine rivers are at or above historic flood levels. Significant loss of crops and livestock is expected.
Iowa Gov. Chet Culver has declared 83 of the state's 99 counties disaster areas and dispatched 2,500 National Guard troops to flooded communities.
Cedar Rapids: The Cedar River, at nearly 32 feet, was nearly 12 feet above the old record set in 1929. An estimated 9.2 square miles, or 1,300 blocks, has been flooded, according to fire officials, and 24,000 people have been forced from their homes. By late Saturday, the water had slowly begun to go down.
Des Moines: A levee holding back the Des Moines River broke early Saturday, sending water rushing into the Birdland neighborhood of more than 200 homes and three dozen businesses near downtown.
Iowa City: Rising waters, expected to crest Monday or Tuesday, threatened the University of Iowa campus and other areas along the Iowa River; more than 200 homes were evacuated.
A levee along the Mississippi River in far western Illinois burst Saturday; evacuations were underway in Keithsburg, a town of about 700. Rising water prompted officials to sandbag threatened areas and close a bridge over the Mississippi connecting Quincy, Ill., to Missouri.
Parts of southern Wisconsin have been dealing with flooding for days, and Bush declared disasters in five counties there Saturday.
Source: Times wire services