WINFIELD, Missouri (Reuters) - Farmhouses appear to float on lakes, and farmers use boats to get to their barns. Businesses are shuttered as flooded roadways cut off customers. Rail lines, factories, river locks are shut down. Homeowners, who watched and waited and prayed, have seen dreams drowned.
After weeks of flooding through Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana and Wisconsin, billions of dollars in damage are adding up from dozens of flooded towns, shaky bridges, overwhelmed utilities, and thousands of evacuees.
But the misery index from the Great Flood of 2008 has only started to sink in.
“We’re just mentally and physically exhausted,” said Winfield resident Carol Broseman, who fled her low-lying home for a shelter in this Missouri town on Saturday after flood waters engulfed her neighborhood. “I’ve cried all I can cry.”
A levee break on Friday outside this town of about 800 people north of St. Louis sent a rush of muddy water across 3,000 acres of surrounding fields and prompted frantic efforts to hold back more water.
But the efforts failed shortly before dawn on Saturday as the river pushed through a six-foot- (1.8-metre-)high barrier of sandbags that stretched 2,000 feet along the community’s eastern edge.
“I’ve got a lot of money tied up in that little house,” said 59-year-old Karl Broseman, who had no insurance on the two-bedroom, now-flooded home he shares with his wife Carol. “I can rebuild. I’m going to get started as soon as I can.”
“We really have no where else to go,” said 65-year-old Gilbert Navarro, a retired laborer who said he spent the last two weeks praying his home would be spared only to see it hit with several feet of water on Saturday.
“We still have to make house payments, even if we don’t have a house. If a disaster hits, you rebuild.”
Midwest storms and torrential rains have killed at least 24 people since late May. More than 38,000 people have been driven from their homes, mostly in Iowa where 83 of 99 counties have been declared disaster areas.
Flooded homes will take months to clean and rebuild, for those who choose to rebuild. Sewage-filled streets and contaminated wells must be cleaned up, levees restored, and damaged roads and bridges rebuilt.
But the losses have spread far beyond the city limits of the hundreds of towns around flooded rivers. For farmers, millions of acres of prime crop land have been ruined. Much of that will be a total loss as it is too late to replant.
“It is a devastating loss. It really sets you back,” said Stan Rolf, who had soybeans and corn planted on 1,500 acres
in Lincoln County in northeast Missouri, most of which were under several feet of water by Sunday.
Rolf, his family and friends spent days helping sandbag and shore up a levee protecting his and other farms. But the efforts failed when the Mississippi River on Friday broke through that barrier, one of three dozen levees breached since the flooding began a month ago.
“We sandbagged and thought we could hold the water back,” Rolf said. “We fought a pretty good fight here.”
President George W. Bush has asked Congress for at least $1.8 billion in aid. A tax relief measure for residents in nine Midwestern states is under consideration as well.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has promised aid, state officials are letting flood victims camp for free in state parks, and clean-up plans are under way in coordinated efforts between local, state and federal officials.
But flooded-out victims said help cannot come fast enough.
“This is bad. We’re pleading with the governor. We need assistance,” said 88-year-old Dick Whiteside, whose farmland is under water and who has spent his days volunteering at an American Red Cross shelter in Winfield.
Editing by Peter Bohan and Vicki Allen