June 17, 2008
Polluted Floodwaters Bring Warnings
By ALLEN G BREED
By Allen G. Breed
The floodwaters that deluged much of Iowa have done more than knock out drinking water and destroy homes. They also have spread a noxious brew of sewage, farm chemicals and fuel that could sicken anyone who wades in.
On Monday, Bob Lanz used a 22-foot aluminum flatboat to navigate through downtown Oakville, where water reeked of pig feces and diesel fuel. "You can hardly stand it," Lanz said as he surveyed what remained of his family's hog farm. "It's strong."
LeRoy Lippert, chairman of emergency management and homeland security in nearby Des Moines County, warned people to avoid the floodwaters: "If you drink this water and live, tell me about it. You have no idea. It is very, very wise to stay out of it. It's as dangerous as anything."
In addition to the poison in the water, there are mosquitoes - millions of them spawning in acres of standing water.
As some of Iowa's flooded towns began cleaning up Monday, others braced for new flooding risks, particularly in southeastern Iowa along the Mississippi River. Most requests for state aid were coming from Des Moines County, where the Mississippi was not expected to crest until Wednesday. The county had asked for 500,000 sandbags.
"We have just begun to fight," Gov. Chet Culver said. Two more deaths were reported Monday, including a woman whose car was hit by a National Guard truck, bringing the state's death toll to five.
Elsewhere, damage in the college town of Iowa City appeared limited. About 400 homes took on water Sunday, and 16 University of Iowa buildings sustained some flood damage over the weekend. The town's levees, though, were holding, and the Iowa River was falling.
Officials in Illinois were building up the approach to the only major bridge over the Mississippi River linking Hamilton with Keokuk, Iowa, so the bridge could stay open despite rising water.
In Cedar Rapids, hazardous conditions forced officials on Monday to stop taking residents into homes where the water had receded. Broken gas lines, sinkholes and structural problems with homes made conditions unsafe, said Dave Koch, a city spokesman.
Frustrations spilled over at one checkpoint, where a man was arrested at gunpoint after he tried to drive past police in his pickup .
Warnings about the dangers of walking in the polluted water prompted hundreds of people to line up at a downtown clinic Sunday for free tetanus shots.
Teresa Schirm wore latex gloves and shorts as she stood ankle- deep in smelly brown water in her garage in Cedar Rapids.
"You can see the oil on top of the water," she said. "But when you're trying to salvage what little you have left, you do it. I don't know what else to do."
In downtown Cedar Rapids on Monday, all manner of refuse could be seen floating down the Cedar River - 55-gallon drums labeled "corrosive," propane tanks, wooden fences and railroad ties. Dead birds and fish lay on the city's 1st Avenue Bridge.
A few blocks away, a paint store stood with its windows blown out. A line indicating the high-water mark could be seen about 8 feet above the floor.
Also mixed into the floodwaters are pesticides, herbicides and fertilizer from Iowa's vast stretches of farmland.
Originally published by BY ALLEN G. BREED.
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