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US Farm Belt Faces Economic Disaster From Floods

Surging water is moving down the Mississippi river devastating towns and farmland along the way. The river has topped close to a dozen levees flooding towns in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri and residents farther downstream are bracing for the surge as it heads their way. VOA's Greg Flakus has more from Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Residents are returning to their homes in some parts of Iowa and farmers are trying to determine if they can salvage fields that were flooded soon after being planted. President Bush toured the disaster area as did presidential candidates, Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican candidate, and Senator Barack Obama, the likely Democratic candidate.

But even as citizens began the clean up process in Iowa, assisted by the National Guard and relief agencies, people farther downstream were fleeing the raging water.

In Foley, Missouri, John Watson spoke to reporters from the roof of his home.

"There is nothing you can do, just sit there and watch it come at you. Get everything out you can," he said.

But the people whose homes have been flooded are not the only ones likely to feel pain from this disaster. A lot of valuable farmland has been flooded destroying crops of corn, wheat and soybeans that had been planted in recent weeks. This is the heart of the U.S. grain-producing region and the losses in the flood zone will surely cause higher food prices worldwide.

Corn hit a record price of $8 a bushel earlier this week and some analysts believe it will move higher once the full extent of the damage to farmland is known. Losses in Iowa alone are estimated at $2.7 billion. For farmers in the northern part of the flood zone it may be too late to replant since there are not enough days left in the growing season to bring a crop to harvest. But even many farmers who would like to replant there is pessimism. Many of them say the ground is too soggy for them to enter the fields with tractors and other equipment.

But even after fields are totally drained farmers will face the problem of silt and contaminated material that washed over their land with the floodwaters. It may take years for some areas to recover completely.

The floods have also disrupted other economic activity in the area. Tourism has fallen even in areas unaffected by flooding because people are avoiding travel to the Mississippi river area in general. Barge traffic on the Mississippi has been slowed as well.

Officials say this year's floods will likely surpass the devastation of the 1993 floods in the region, which resulted in losses of over $20 billion.