June 17, 2008 / 1:16 AM / 10 years ago

Flood damage to Iowa roads, bridges worse than '93

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Flood damage to Iowa’s bridges, highways, roads and railroad tracks is worse than 1993, when every county in that state was declared a disaster area, an Iowa transportation official said on Monday.

The state still has no official tally of how many bridges and miles of roadway have been knocked out by the catastrophic flooding of the past week, Dena M. Gray-Fisher, spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Transportation, said in a telephone interview. But, she said, the damage has eclipsed the damage that occurred 15 years ago.

Economic damage in Iowa, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin and Illinois from the 1993 floods was pegged by the U.S. government at almost $20 billion.

Gray-Fisher said water levels in Iowa had already exceeded 1993 levels. “That and the force of the water ... This one is so different in how much area is covered, the amount of devastation, the amount of water. It just didn’t stop for a long time.”

She said the state’s rail network was particularly hard hit, with tracks and bridges, including a span near Deere & Co’s tractor factory in Waterloo, swept away.

“They’ve lost a lot of bridges, and they’ve lost lot of track, and it’s affected freight service throughout the state,” Gray-Fisher said, specifically addressing railways.

“When you can’t move freight -- critical things like coal or the John Deere plant that can’t get any of their manufactured goods out of the state -- those things are devastating to business.”

Last week, Deere said production at Waterloo had not been affected by flooding because the plant was on summer shutdown. Ken Golden, a spokesman for Deere, said in an e-mail on Monday that the company has other options for shipping its products when production resumes next week.

It has been a particularly wet spring in the Midwest, with the weather delaying crop plantings, overflowing rivers, and ruining vast acres of corn and soybean plantings.

The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation said on Monday that flood waters have claimed about 20 percent of grain acres in Iowa, or about 1.3 million of corn and up to 2 million acres of soy.

Iowa and Illinois produce about one third of U.S. corn and soybeans, and Iowa is a major producer of hogs and cattle. It also serves as a critical link in the country’s road and rail network, with several Interstate highways crisscrossing the state.

Washed-out roads, bridges and rail routes have stymied transportation of grain in central and eastern parts of Iowa.

Gray-Fisher said a number of transit stations have been closed, and Amtrak passenger rail service has been disrupted along with freight service in most parts of the state.

Mississippi River locks are also closed due to high water, impeding agricultural commerce.

Thousands of people in the flood region, which encompasses Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan, have been displaced. The first city to report flooding as opposed to heavy rain was Charles City, Iowa, on June 8.

Editing by Toni Reinhold

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