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Southwest Iowa Struggles To Recover From Spring Flooding

Katie Peikes
IPR file
Flood in Hamburg, seen in early April.

Southwest Iowa communities are still struggling to recover from this spring’s flooding.
It’s been more than 130 days since the swollen Missouri River breached levees in the region. Mills County Public Health Administrator Sheri Bowen, the public information officer for the flood event, says the flooding has had people digging deep into their pockets to pay the mortgages of their damaged homes and rent temporary places to live.

“At this point as folks are getting settlements from FEMA on their properties, they’re finding that ongoing rent support is just no longer an option for many households,” Bowen said. “So financially it is a huge, huge strain for people.”

Bowen said some people are living outside in campers, which won’t work in the fall and winter. FEMA has provided the county with eight mobile home units so far. 

"This has been well over 100 days and it's getting very, very long." Sheri Bowen, Mills County

There are no longer evacuations in place for the county, but a lot of people have not returned home, Bowen said.

“This has been well over 100 days and it’s getting very, very long,” she said. “I think it’s so challenging for people who have been flood-affected and not been able to return to their home since March.”

South of Mills County, in Fremont County, evacuation orders were lifted in late June for the unincorporated areas of Percival, Bartlett and McPaul, north of Highway 2. Evacuation orders are still in place for everything west of Bluff Road and south of Highway 2.

Fremont County Emergency Management Coordinator Mike Crecelius said in the more than four months since the flooding first hit in mid-March, people are still visiting his office for help. People are coming in and looking for clothes, furniture, non-perishable food and hygiene products, among other things, he said.

“Some of these people, they lost their house and they lost their job because of this flood and they’re still trying to find ways to make ends meet at this point in time,” Crecelius said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has closed several breaches along the Missouri River’s levee systems.

The Corps' Omaha District said in an email to Iowa Public Radio that it has completed the first four breach closures on levee systems on Iowa’s side of the river. They still have at least 40 breaches to fix.

The Corps said the next phase is to build the levees up to a 25-year level of protection – at least.

Crecelius said depending on how much snowfall comes next winter, he’s worried a 25-year level won’t be enough to prevent flooding.

“At 25-year protection, anything like what we had this year or in 2011 or last year will overtop that 25-year protection level,” Crecelius said.

Crecelius said he’s been told getting levee systems to pre-flood conditions could take two to three years.