DES MOINES, Iowa (BP)–An official with the National Weather Service said residents of Iowa are experiencing “a historic hydrological event” of unprecedented river levels, with the city of Cedar Rapids underwater after a nearby waterway exceeded its capacity.
“We’re in uncharted territory. This is an event beyond what anybody could even imagine,” meteorologist Brian Pierce told the Associated Press.
Iowa Gov. Chet Culver has declared 55 of the state’s 99 counties disaster areas as Southern Baptists continue to aid in relief efforts.
“This is the most widespread flood that Iowa has known in modern times, so a lot of people are displaced,” Jimmy Barrentine, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Iowa, told Baptist Press June 13. “Thankfully no deaths have been reported at this point. The death count from the tornadoes stands at 11, but so far no deaths from the flooding.”
A tornado destroyed a Boy Scout camp outside Little Sioux, on the western side of Iowa, Wednesday evening. The storm killed four Scouts and injured more than 40 people at the camp on the heels of deadly tornadoes that struck the state earlier this month.
One of the Scouts, Sam Thomsen, was just days away from his 14th birthday when he died, the Omaha World-Herald reported. In addition to Boy Scouts, he divided his time between sports, home-schooling and Southwest Church of Christ, the newspaper said.
On the last entry on his Facebook page, Thomsen listed his interests as Jesus, football, video games and a local basketball team for home-schooled children.
“He was always just full-board with everything he did, whether it be church or Boy Scouts or sports,” Jim White, pastor of Southwest Church of Christ, told Larry King on CNN. “He always had a wonderful, engaging smile on his face.”
Teenagers participating in the North American Mission Board’s World Changers mission event in Sioux City, Iowa, about 50 miles north of Little Sioux, reported being frightened by the storm sirens as they took the afternoon off for relaxation from work projects they have been completing across the Siouxland metro areas of Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota.
Many of the students were at a Sioux City mall when the storms came through the area. Jessica Brown of Ankeny, Iowa, told her mother she was nearly hit by a piece of wood blown from a rooftop by storms that afternoon.
Northwest Iowa Baptist Association officials reported that the World Changers students are safe and are expected to complete their mission projects on schedule by Saturday.
In Cedar Rapids, a city of about 124,000 people, officials estimated that 100 city blocks were underwater downtown after the Cedar River overflowed its banks. More than 3,000 homes were evacuated, 8,000 residents were displaced, cars were underwater and a railroad bridge collapsed, AP said. Nine rivers across Iowa are at or above historic flood levels.
“We have been asked to gear up to feed as many as 30,000 meals a day in that area,” Barrentine said, referring to Southern Baptist disaster relief units being called in from Iowa and other states.
Routes in and out of Cedar Rapids were being closed, Barrentine said, making it difficult for disaster relief teams to get into the city and to get out when they need to rest.
Ty Berry, disaster relief coordinator for the Iowa convention, was meeting with Red Cross and Federal Emergency Management Association officials Friday morning to determine how many additional units would need to be deployed.
“At present, we have feeding stations at Wapello and Cedar Falls,” Barrentine said. “As soon as possible, units from other states will set up feeding units at Davenport, Iowa City and Cedar Rapids.
“We are holding the Iowa feeding unit at Winterset as a backup for the Des Moines metro area. The volunteers at Cedar Falls are working from a Tennessee cooking unit,” he added. “We also have a shower unit and a laundry unit in route for Wapello. We have chaplains and childcare units on standby.”
Given the looming danger in Des Moines, state convention staff workers, including Barrentine, were leaving the offices at noon Friday to return to their homes before water covered roadways. They were setting up offsite workstations to continue coordinating relief efforts.
“So far as we know, the only church building that has water in it is the Avon Community Church here in Des Moines, and it certainly is in danger,” Barrentine told BP. “Their pastor and his wife have their things packed in their car and they’re ready to evacuate.
“Probably the churches that are most at risk will be in the Cedar Rapids area and in the Dunkerton area,” Barrentine said. “We do have a levee that’s compromised here in Des Moines. If that levee were to break, we’d be back to about where we were when the floods hit in 1993.”
In 1993, Iowa suffered from what historians labeled a 500-year flood.
“We’ve had an Illinois unit here helping us. There is currently a Tennessee unit here,” Barrentine said. “We do have assessment officers coming in from Texas and we do have a deployment administrator coming in from Idaho. All of that is through the North American Mission Board.”
Barrentine requested that Southern Baptists “pray, pray, pray” for the ongoing situation in Iowa.
Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Erin Roach with reporting by Richard Nations, editor of the Iowa Baptist newspaper.