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In US Midwest, People Looking to Clean Up, Rebuild After Heavy Flooding


Heavy flooding in America's Midwest in recent weeks has caused severe damage. In one of the hardest-hit cities, Cedar Rapids, in the state of Iowa, as many as 2,000 homes may have to be demolished. VOA Correspondent Scott Stearns is in Cedar Rapids and reports that, despite the widespread devastation, people are optimistic that they will be able to rebuild.

Along the streets of downtown Cedar Rapids, mounds of water-damaged household goods are waiting to be hauled away - molding carpets, bloated couches, rows of refrigerators and piles of silt-stained insulation.

The City Council has decided to demolish at least 300 homes too dangerous to enter. Another 1,700 in the flood plain may be razed once residents salvage what they can.

University of Iowa tests on the sludge left behind by the flood have found contamination from sewage, industrial chemicals and diesel fuel.

"If you have to go into a building, protect yourself at all costs," said Ryan Sunderman, the medical director at St. Luke's Hospital. "We are seeing people come in. It's hot. People want to wear shorts, so they might put on some rubber boots. It's not enough. They need to be fully wrapped."

Storms and high water have killed 24 people and caused billions of dollars in damage to buildings and farmland since late May. More than 38,000 people are displaced, most of them here in Iowa.

Cedar Rapids city council has requested 500 trailers from the federal government to house those displaced. The city's manager says reimbursement from a federal buyout program could take as long as 18 months.

Hundreds of out-of-town construction crews have arrived to help with rebuilding. Concerned about potential fraud, Cedar Rapids Police Chief Greg Graham is conducting criminal background checks, and making sure skilled workers have proper liability insurance.

"For the community, as you are getting contacted by these contractors and these outside vendors, ask to see their city ID," he said. "If they don't have a city ID, they have not been cleared through the city of Cedar Rapids with background checks, so don't employ them."

Tony Golobic owns a company that provides financing and business services to healthcare, telecommunications and office equipment firms. Golobic came to Cedar Rapids 20 years ago and has no doubt the city will rebuild itself stronger than before.

"There is something that I would say is very unique to the American spirit and that uniqueness is especially pronounced here in the Midwest, places like Iowa, places like Cedar Rapids, and that uniqueness is reliance on self help, " he said. "We are not going to wait on anybody else to help us. We are going to be here trying to help ourselves, and if somebody else wants to help us, great. But we are not counting on anybody. We are doing it ourselves."

The city's minor league baseball team, the Cedar Rapids Kernels, has started a food drive for those displaced by the floodwater.

"We do feel it is a good outlet for people to be able to come out here for a few hours and have some fun, and maybe get away from the reality of what has happened to them at least for a few hours," said Jack Roeder, the team's general manager.

Collection buckets are passed among the spectators. The team has raised $6,000 for the local Red Cross.

"Everyone helps, everyone steps up, and everyone knows what they need to do," Roeder said. "That's exactly what is happening in this community. It is extraordinary people putting forth great efforts. It is going to take a long time. I don't think there are any short cuts to get to where the city wants to be again, but we will, just because of the people that live here.

Marshall Blake is an usher at Memorial Stadium, where the minor league games are played.

"I was fortunate to be on high ground you might say, had no problems, had some very good friends who have lost everything," he said. "It is just unbelievable. I saw the floodwater, and of course the devastation left after it. I still have a hard time comprehending."

The damage in Cedar Rapids inspired a song from the local duo Bound2Be, aptly titled "Flood."

A dusk-to-dawn curfew remains in effect, as more than 3,000 people are still without electricity.

Many citizens are boiling their drinking water because one-third of the city's private wells are contaminated.

The first six months of the year have been the wettest in Iowa history, and flash flood warnings remain in effect across much of the state.