Branstad surveys NW Iowa flood damage
ROCK RAPIDS, Iowa — Gov. Terry Branstad and Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Mark Schouten visited Rock Rapids Wednesday to survey the damage from Monday’s devastating storm that hit northwest Iowa.
Branstad had issued a proclamation of disaster emergency Tuesday for five Iowa counties — Lyon, Sioux, Plymouth, Cedar and Pocahontas — in response to the storm.
“This is the worst I have seen in a long time,” Branstad said as he took stock of the damage.
Branstad and Schouten visited with homeowners about the storm and how much damage their homes sustained.
Donna Inderwich, a retired kindergarten teacher, was cleaning out her garage when Branstad came to ask her about her home. Inderwich — who by coincidence happened to be Schouten’s kindergarten teacher — said she’d never seen the water levels this high since the flood of 1993 that hit the area.
“There was just no stopping it,” she said. “The water came about three blocks up, and my whole basement is gone. Thankfully it did not get upstairs, and I have help coming in this afternoon (Wednesday) to help me clean.”
Schouten told Inderweich that efforts are ongoing to supply individual assistance from both the State of Iowa and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
“We’ll be applying to FEMA to see what kind of help we can get from the federal level, both for individual homeowners and also for the public,” Branstad said.
“We flew over Rock Valley on our way up to Rock Rapids and saw a lot of crop damage, a lot of homes and businesses damaged as well,” he added. “This is a devastating disaster, there’s no question about it.”
Branstad explained what will happen with the cleanup process from the state level, now that Lyon County has been declared a disaster emergency.
“By state disaster designation, the state can now provide equipment and assistance in various ways, and also provide assistance — on a matching basis — with the local government and with what FEMA does,” he said.
Schouten described what will happen from the federal level as far as getting assistance to community and individual homeowners.
“We do an assessment ... with the local officials from Lyon and Sioux counties, and make a determination of how much damage is done,” Schouten said. “Then we’ll go to FEMA and request a joint preliminary damage assessment.”
Schouten noted that FEMA officials might arrive in the Rock Rapids area in the middle of next week, as they are busy assessing the disaster in Nebraska.
“We think, given all the damage we’re seeing here, that we have a pretty good chance at meeting the minimum threshold for the state of Iowa so that the governor can request a presidential disaster designation for this area,” Schouten said. “If that happens, it will free federal dollars to use for public facilities that have been damaged, but we hope to make a pitch for federal individual assistance so we can attempt to get some help for people who have had their homes damaged.”
In addition to storm damage to homes, the Rock Rapids Water Treatment Plant also took a hit, prompting the state to provide three 3-inch pumps — two to Rock Rapids and one to George — for the cleanup.
“We helped out with a number of pumps and sandbags; those are things we did during the response,” Schouten said. “We’re sending a team to do an assessment (today), as the governor indicated he has declared this county a disaster area, and we will be working hard to advocate for the county with the federal authorities. We hope we can get a federal disaster designation that will free up federal money for assistance, as well.”
Since the water treatment plant is shut down due to flooding, residents have now been told to boil their drinking water. However, the community is coordinating with Pepsi to provide donated drinking water.
“The biggest thing is to try and get your water treatment plant cleaned up and restored as quickly as possible, and that can sometimes take a couple weeks,” Branstad explained. “I know it did in Des Moines in 1993 while I was in office.”
Branstad recognized that the state is familiar with severe weather incidents, but admitted that they still shock him every time.
“It’s sad to see this. … The good news is we haven’t had the loss of life like some other places where they’ve had devastating tornadoes,” he said. “You can’t replace human life.”
Daily Globe Reporter Erin Trester may be reached at 376-7322.