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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Small towns nearly flooded off the map

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Even before the Iowa River used this town as a shortcut to the Mississippi, there wasn't much here: A post office, a convenience store, a tavern and a little restaurant.

The largest employer was a pork-and-grain producer called TriOak Foods. The company's towering grain elevator was the tallest structure for miles around.

Then the floodwaters soaking much of the Midwest turned their force on the region's small communities - most with skylines that consist only of a water tower and maybe a couple of church steeples.

As the rivers rise, these modest towns survive because neighbor helps neighbor, and the people reinforcing the levees are business owners, farmers and fellow church members.

"My house is past help. So we're trying to save everybody else's," said Bethany Frank as she helped fill sandbags in a church parking lot in Oakville, about 40 miles southwest of Davenport. Her home on the outskirts of town was flooded up to the roof.

On Wednesday, Iowans assessed their losses from flooding that inundated Des Moines and Iowa City. But small towns up and down the Mississippi still awaited the worst of the flooding. Some rivers were not expected to crest until Thursday.

Storms and flooding across six states this month have killed 24 people, injured 148 and caused more than $1.5 billion in estimated damage in Iowa alone.

Federal officials predicted as many as 30 levees could overflow this week.

About 70 percent of Iowa towns have populations of less than 1,000. after a levee broke Saturday.

Connie Lewis, 78, who has lived in Columbus Junction for 40 years, often wondered who would keep the town going when her generation passed. When she saw droves of young people filling sandbags and vacuuming the United Methodist Church so it could be used for a shelter, she got her answer.

"And now we know we are going to be OK," she says. "It was such a good cementing experience. Children of all colors were helping. You find out when you need them, they step up to the plate."

These are places where people have learned to lean on each other instead of waiting for outside help.

"The small town suffers with no grocery stores anymore, hardly any gas stations," said Jon Fye, who lives in the even smaller nearby town of Sperry.

"For some it's a bad year, a terrible year," he said as he cleared corn stalks from the propeller of his boat. "But for some, it's the end."

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