1 person missing since floodwaters swept cars away in Iowa creek; divers on standby

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

1 person missing in storm-flooded Iowa creek

DES MOINES, Iowa — One person was missing after raging floodwaters swept three cars off a road near Des Moines early Wednesday, and college athletes rallied to protect their stadium from the rising water after three nights of torrential rain.

Emergency crews found 10 of the 11 people who were in the vehicles about 4 a.m. when the storm-swollen Mud Creek washed them off the road between Altoona and Mitchellville, said A.J. Munn, the emergency management director for Polk County.

Those rescued had been clinging to trees and hanging onto logs.

Munn said four were taken to the hospital. The fast-flowing waters were hampering efforts to find the final passenger, he said.

“Divers can’t enter the water because it’s too dangerous. It’s moving too swiftly,” Munn said.

Doug Phillips, a division chief with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, said the creek is usually only 3 feet deep and 10 feet wide. Now, divers checking the water as they wait for it to recede can’t touch the bottom using 6-foot poles.

Early Wednesday morning, “it looked like a river,” Phillips said. “I mean, it was horrendous.”

Thunderstorms have hit Iowa for three consecutive nights, sending rivers and creeks rolling over their banks. The National Weather Service said 2 to 4 inches of rain fell on central and eastern Iowa over night, with up to 6 inches in some spots.

Several hundred people were evacuated from their homes in Ames early Wednesday and sandbagging was under way, after 3 to 5 inches of rain pushed Squaw Creek and Skunk River to break their banks in the city 30 miles north of Des Moines, Fire Chief Clint Petersen said. In some spots, water was up to car windshields.

“This is a particularly dangerous situation,” he said.

The Iowa Department of Transportation closed Interstate 35 just south of Ames, and both lanes of U.S. Highway 30 in the area were closed.

Iowa State University football players were stacking sandbags around the football stadium Wednesday, department spokesman Tom Kroeschell said. The nearby soccer complex flooded overnight and flooding threatened Hilton Coliseum, which hosts Iowa State’s basketball teams, he said.

Howe’s Welding and Metal Fab had several feet of water inside it, even though the owners had been sandbagging all night. Piper Wall, whose husband owns the business, said it was difficult to assess the damage while the water remained, but it appeared worse than in 1993, when much of the area was underwater.

“It will be when all this comes out and all the mud that remains and the machining tools and electric stuff that’s not high enough,” Wall said. “In 1993, it was $150,000 and this year it’s higher.”

A few blocks away, the Meadowland Mobile Home Park had flooded and some residents were evacuating.

Dean Black, 58, stayed behind, drinking coffee on his deck while water lapped around the deck’s floorboards. The water had to rise another 9 inches before it would get inside his home, he said, indicating he was taking it in stride.

“What else are you going to do?” he said. “I can’t stop it.”

Downriver from Ames, the town of Colfax was nearly cut off by the rising Skunk River. Roads were covered by water, and people used boats to help neighbors move to higher ground.

Pam Weigle spent the morning stacking sandbags at her downtown restaurant, Georgio’s. The river was usually about 150 yards away, but at midday Wednesday the water was within about 10 feet of her door, she said.

Colfax flooded in 1993, when the Skunk River reached a record of over 21.5 feet, more than 4 feet over flood stage. The river on Wednesday was 22.5 and still rising.

Associated Press writers Michael J. Crumb in Ames and Luke Meredith in Altoona contributed to this report.

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