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Flood victims keep weathering the storm.

Flooding in at least six states along the Mississippi River worsened as rain continued to fall in the Midwest, causing millions of dollars in damage to crops, businesses, and homes. And as the steady rain pushes the flooding south along the Mississippi, there appears to be no end in sight for embattled farmers and homeowners.

Residents of Minnesota, Wiscousin, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri were seeking relief from the rain that has caused flooding in over 500 miles of the Mississippi River and halted barge traffic from Minneapolis to St. Louis while damaging millions of acres of corn and soybean crops.

But unlike such recent disasters as Hurricane Andrew and Hurricane Iniki, this disaster is on-going. The constant rain has caused the worst flooding in 30 years and is hampering relief efforts as residents battle around the clock to save their homes and businesses from the rushing water.

Meanwhile, damage assessments cannot be collected until the water subsides and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can't spring into action until President Clinton declares the states in need of federal disaster aid.

On July 4, Clinton toured flood-damaged areas in Davenport, Iowa, and Moline, Ill., two of the hardest-hit cities, and promised federal disaster aid. After signing a bill on July 2 releasing $100 million in disaster funds, the President said he would soon sign a bill releasing $297 million and would ask Congress for an additional $850 million, a total of over $1.2 billion in aid.

Clinton and Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy met with farmers in Eldridge, Iowa, near Davenport, and witnessed some of the massive destruction to Iowa crops. The flooding is causing enormous damage and delays in the planting and growth of corn and soybeans, which are used mainly as feed for cattle, hogs, and chicken.

In Iowa, at least 1 million acres of crops have been waterdamaged, and another 1.5 million acres won't even be planted this year because of the flooding. Wisconsin Governor Tommy G. Thompson reported $140 million in farm losses alone in his state.

After record rainfall in the last eight months, two major storms in late June are being blamed for the deluge. At least 15 deaths have been attributed to the flooding, and the water level has crested at near-record highs. More than 2000 barges have been stranded as locks on the river from the Iowa line to St. Louis have been closed, resulting in estimated losses of up to $1 million per day to shippers.

As levees break and thousands are evacuated from low-lying homes, residents in hard-hit areas have been looking toward federal aid. However, Richard Krimm, acting associate director of FEMA Disaster Programs, said at a press conference Wednesday that before FEMA can provide assistance, they first need a request from the state's governor saying the state needs help beyond its capabilities. Once FEMA receives the request, it notifies the President, who can then declare a disaster and release aid in the form of funds.

FEMA Director James L. Witt said that President Clinton has signed a disaster declaration in 17 Wisconsin counties, and a June 11 disaster declaration in Minnesota has been extended. Witt received a request for a disaster declaration from Illinois on Tuesday and was expecting requests from Iowa and Missouri later in the week.

Krimm said that FEMA was doing preliminary damage assessments in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Missouri. A disaster center has been set up in Eau Claire, Wisc., where individuals can apply for disaster relief, with other sites to be set up shortly. Krimm said that FEMA funding can provide temporary housing, home repairs, disaster unemployment assistance for as long as 26 weeks, and can give up to $11,900 in individual family grants.

But while some are busy attempting to get funding for relief, the flooding goes on and many are still busy trying to protect their homes and businesses from the ever-threatening water.

In Davenport, the river crested for the second time at just over 22 feet recently, more than seven feet over the floodstage level. Residents have received assistance from the National Guard, the Red Cross, volunteers, and even technical assistance from the Corps of Engineers in efforts to save their property.

Davenport, which along with Bettendorf and Rock Island and Molme, Ill., makes up the Quad-Cities, is the only one of the four cities that failed to put up a protecting flood wall after the destructive flood of 1965. Residents blocked flood control measures three times, citing rising construction costs and the desire to keep their beautiful view of the Mississippi River unobstructed.

But now Davenport is paying the price as it is suffering the worst urban flooding of any of the cities; Mayor Pat Gibbs has estimated damage at $100 million.

Clayton Lloyd, director of community and economic development for Davenport, said that the city hoped to finish a disaster application soon with a formal declaration coming early in the week. He said that a disaster application center would be opened in Davenport by July 17, if not earlier.

Jim Taylor of the National Flood Insurance Program stated that fewer than 20 percent of the victims of the flooding have flood insurance. And while more than 14,900 policies are enforced in the flooded areas, only 144 claims have been made so far. Taylor attributed the lowrate of claims to the fact that in most areas the water hasn't even begun to recede.

While the blocking pattern of weather keeps the rain-drenched areas soggy, there is hopeful news. John Elmore, chief of the Operations and Readiness Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said Wednesday that he sees no problem with urban levees at this time and that only one federal levee has failed.

The Corps of Engineers, which has divisions working in St. Paul, Rock Island, St. Louis, and Kansas City, is providing hundreds of pumps, thousands of sandbags and technology to cities to help fight the waters. While the Missouri River has risen also and has been closed from Jefferson City to St. Louis, Elmore reported that the Ohio River, which meeks the Mississippi River in southern Illinois, is still at a normal level and poses no threat to compounding the flood.

Elmore said that several lock-and-dam installations have been re-opened on the Mississippi River, and that considerable reservoir space in Kansas and Missouri is available to abate the waters. He said that the rest of the locks should be rapidly brought back on line and anticipates the whole system of locks to be re-opened by July 25.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) is offering assistance to small towns that don't have levees to support the flood. Berkie Kulik, assistant administrator of the SBA Office of Disaster Assistance, said that small towns that depend on farms for income are hurt the most by floods. Once the President has declared a disaster, the SBA can make economic-injury loans to individuals for up to 30 years at a low, 4% interest rate.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Neff, Andy
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Jul 12, 1993
Previous Article:Fiscal tensions tighten around city budgets for third year running; NLC leaders urge national focus on local economic health.
Next Article:Clinton announces plans to soften base closing blow.

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