At a press conference in Des Moines Sunday, Iowa Governor Chet Culver said flood damage across Iowa will undoubtedly total in the billions of dollars in what will be recorded as one of the worst disasters in state history. "But we will rebuild Iowa," he promised, "and we will be stronger at the end of the day. Iowans are at their best when their backs are against the wall."
The governor, along with Iowa Senators Tom Harkin and Charles Grassley, flew in a helicopter on Friday over some of the worst areas hit by flooding. The congressional group, including Federal Emergency Management agency Director David Paulison, flew from Des Moines to Parkersburg, site of a deadly tornado, and on to Waterloo and Cedar Rapids.
May call a special session of Legislature
The governor said he and other Iowa leaders will ask for federal money and other assistance to help flood-stricken communities, both rural and urban, recover. "We will look at both federal and state funding," said Culver. "If it is necessary to call a special session of the Iowa Legislature, we will." He praised the bi-partisan cooperation he has received from Iowa's congressional delegation and state lawmakers.
Although rivers in some areas have started to recede, state officials recognize that the flood fight is far from over, and many southern Iowa communities still face major battles against rivers that haven't crested. Iowa has sustained 16 fatalities from flooding and tornadoes since late May and 83 of the state's 99 counties have been declared disaster areas.
Biggest loss for Iowa will be crop damage
Culver noted that many cities and towns have sustained great damage to buildings, homes and businesses. Many roadways and bridges will need to be repaired and rebuilt. He said that some of the worst damage will be sustained by Iowa farmers who have seen their crops badly damaged by flooding that will cost in excess of $1 billion. He pledged to work with agricultural groups and Iowa's congressional delegation to help flooded farmers recover.
Harkin, an Iowa Democrat who is chair of the U.S. Senate Ag Committee, said the agricultural damage from flooding left him speechless as he viewed it from the helicopter and is likely worse than the 1993 floods. "The thing that's really shaken me up is the amount of crop damage," he said. "It looks to me worse than in '93. Just about every field had flooding, and we flew over some of the best cropland in Iowa."
Grassley, a Republican who is also a member of the U.S. Senate Ag Committee, said after the tour, "There isn't a dry field. You just feel helpless looking at the sight of all the damage to the homes, businesses, farms and crops."
What will be impact of huge crop loss?
On Friday, Iowa Farm Bureau economist Dave Miller estimated that up to 20% of Iowa's corn and soybean crops may be lost due to flooding and related damage. This is the first estimate that has been made of crop damage so far.
Miller estimates that nearly 1.3 million corn acres and up to 2 million acres of soybeans in the state have been lost to the flood. "The biggest question facing many farmers now is whether to replant at this late date," he said.
Iowa ag leaders are concerned about the international impact of a huge crop loss in the state in 2008, and in other Midwestern states that are also hit by extensive flooding. It will have serious implications as officials struggle with worldwide food shortages and price increases as well as increasing demand for ethanol. If there ever was a year when we needed a big crop, this was it," noted Harkin.