Tornado Kills Four at Iowa Scout Camp, Towns Flee Floods

DES MOINES, Iowa, June 11, 2008 (ENS) – A tornado touched down at a Boy Scout camp in the woods near Little Sioux Wednesday, killing four people and injuring at least 40 others, Iowa Governor Chet Culver said tonight.

In a conference call with reporters, the governor said Iowa National Guard soldiers, rescue teams and Boy Scout leaders rushed to the 1,800-acre site under stormy skies to help the wounded and evacuate everyone.

“We have gotten reports that this is a very, very horrific scene, and a very tragic event, and they are working as fast as they can to finish the search and rescue mission,” the governor said.

Across the Midwest, a storm moving out of the Rockies carrying heavy rain and severe thunderstorms is worsening flooding in the Missouri, Upper Mississippi, and Ohio River Basins.

Severe weather is forecast for an area from south central Kansas to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. These thunderstorms are producing tornadoes, heavy precipitation and localized flash flooding.

Water covers Riverwalk in Des Moines as the
Des Moines River overflows its banks.
(Photo by J.D. Kinzenbaw)

In the state capital of Des Moines, residents are being advised to get ready to evacuate. At about noon on Wednesday, water from storm sewers began backing into the Court Avenue entertainment district in downtown Des Moines. Stormwater was flowing out of the sewers near Eighth and Locust streets.

Businesses along Court Avenue are sandbagged and water was coming into parking garages along Court Avenue.

A flood warning was issued by the National Weather Service in Des Moines Wednesday for Beaver Creek, the Boone River, Des Moines River, east and west forks of the Des Moines and the North River.

Record flooding is expect at many locations on the Cedar and Iowa rivers in eastern Iowa. Unprecedented river levels are expected.

“Today, Iowans are experiencing some of the worst flooding our state has seen in more than a decade,” said Governor Chet Culver. “This is a very serious situation and I encourage Iowans to use caution as these flood waters move through our state.”

“Though the situation looks bad, Iowans must remember that we have taken many steps in recent years to lessen the effects of flooding by raising levees and converting areas prone to flooding to parks. But no matter what, state government will continue to do whatever is necessary to help those affected and return life to normal,” the governor said.

Governor Culver has activated the State Emergency Operations Center, which is serving as a central site where state agencies can coordinate their activity.

The state is working with local responders and private partners at major flood points to help identify key infrastructure items like water treatment plants, and ensure that protective steps are taken.

On Wednesday, Lt. Governor Patty Judge announced that two additional counties have been added to the Governor’s Disaster Proclamation, which brings the total to 44.

“This is an extremely serious and challenging situation. State officials are working hard to stay on top of things,” she said.

“Iowans living in low-lying areas or near river basins must be prepared to evacuate if asked to do so. It may be necessary to do large evacuations, and Iowans must be prepared and ready,” said Judge.

Early Wednesday, more than 200 Cedar Rapids residents on the city’s southwest side were told to seek higher ground. Police officers and firefighters began knocking on doors around 2 am. Boats were used to rescue some people.

Also on Wednesday, Waterloo Mayor Tim Hurley declared an immediate mandatory evacuation was necessary. All residents in the town of Palo have also been evacuated ahead of rising waters.

Sandbags failed to contain the flooding Turkey River in Elkader. Volunteers tried to stop the water from entering the downtown area without success and the lower part of the downtown area is flooded.

According to the National Weather Service, things are moving more quickly than anticipated, and river crests are higher than expected. The Cedar River crested at a record 103 feet at 1 am Wednesday.

In Mason City, Iowa, water service returned to the city Wednesday, four days after the city’s water treatment plant was flooded when a levee along the Winnebago River broke.

Governor Culver has been visiting flooded areas, and is visiting Palo, Vinton, Cedar Falls, Decorah and Elkader on Wednesday. Scheduled press briefings were postponed or canceled as the governor struggled with transportation arrangements.

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