Ames shuts down water system after main breaks beneath creek; Widespread flooding in Iowa

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ames cuts water supply after main breaks in flood

DES MOINES, Iowa — Officials in Ames have closed the city’s water supply after a water main broke beneath a flooded creek.

The shut down leaves most of the city’s 55,000 residents without drinking water.

City officials say crews shut down the Ames Water Plant at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday after the water main broke beneath Squaw Creek. The break drained a city water tower, dropping pressure in the distribution system and raising the possibility the system’s water could become contaminated.

Officials say water may still be accessible to some homes and businesses but should be boiled before it’s consumed.

Repairs could take up to 24 hours, and the boil order could continue for longer.

Iowa has been hit with widespread flooding after three nights of storms.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — One person was missing after raging floodwaters swept three cars off a road near Des Moines early Wednesday, and hundreds of people were forced from their homes in several communities as rivers rose.

In Ames, Iowa State University’s basketball arena had 4 to 5 feet of water in it, while the football stadium was ringed by sandbags stacked by players who hoped to protect it.

Emergency crews found 10 of the 11 people in the cars washed off the road between Altoona and Mitchellville about 4 a.m. by the storm-swollen Mud Creek, said A.J. Munn, the emergency management director for Polk County. They had been clinging to trees and hanging onto logs, and four were taken to the hospital.

The fast-flowing waters hampered efforts to find the final passenger.

“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 over 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 floor at Hilton Coliseum, Iowa State’s basketball arena, was covered with water, school spokesman John McCarroll said. It was too soon to know how much damage had been done, he said.

Jack Trice football stadium was still dry, surrounded by sandbags football players had stacked as a precaution.

But the parking lot between the two stadiums, where tailgaters party before games, was flooded.

“I hope they get it cleared out by football season,” student Sam Stonehocker 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.

Elsewhere in Ames, 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.

Colfax Mayor David Mast said he expected more than 200 homes would flood, and some were already inundated with about 4 feet of water. City officials had asked at least 300 residents on the west side of town to move to higher ground, Mast said.

After Heather Kern was asked to leave at 12:30 a.m., she rushed to move possessions out of the home she shared with her husband, two children and three other relatives. When sirens sounds a few hours later, the family had to evacuate.

Kern’s basement was flooded, and water was inching into the first floor with waste-high water in the backyard.

“I feel blessed that we have our lives,” Kern said. “We don’t know where we’re going to live or where we’re going to stay, but we have our lives.”

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 Colfax contributed to this report.

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