JOHNSTON — Gov. Kim Reynolds is asking the federal government for help covering nearly $1.6 billion in damages caused by widespread flooding — the worst in western Iowa — that has inundated farms, roads and businesses.
“I have determined this incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the state and affected local governments, and supplemental federal assistance is necessary to save lives and to protect property, public health and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a disaster,” the governor wrote late Thursday to President Donald Trump, citing a federal provision that could unlock the aid.
A “bomb cyclone” storm that struck the Midwest roughly 10 days ago triggered flooding that saw the Missouri River overflow its banks and breach levees — sending water spilling across eastern Nebraska and western Iowa. At least four people have been killed and an untold number of livestock lost.
Other parts of Iowa experienced flash flooding as warmer temperatures caused snow to melt rapidly. Reynolds has declared more than half of Iowa’s counties — 52 of 99 — as states of disaster.
Iowa state climatologist Justin Glisan said the third-wettest fall and winter on record along with significant moisture below the surface has led to record flooding in western Iowa.
“If you think of a sponge, the sponge is soaked,” Glisan said Friday during recording for this weekend’s episode of “Iowa Press” on Iowa Public Television.
And it could get worse. Federal projections indicate this year could be wetter than 1993 or 2011, during which Iowa experienced severe flooding.
Glisan said how rapidly record snow levels across the Dakotas and Minnesota melt will have a large impact on whether Iowa is in store for more flooding as this spring progresses.
“What we would like to see is a gentle melting cycle,” Glisan said, noting that ideally temperatures during the thaw will hover between highs in the 40s and lows in the 20s, “so we get melt and refreeze gently so we have runoff into the streams that the streams can handle. Otherwise if we get into a regime with active precipitation patterns, we could be in a very bad position.”
U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, who earlier this week joined Reynolds and Vice President Mike Pence in surveying damage, also wrote to Trump in support of Reynolds’ plea.
“I’ve spent much of this week on the ground in Iowa surveying the damage and meeting with constituents and local, state, and federal officials,” Ernst wrote Friday. “The devastation caused by the flooding is incomprehensible. I respectfully ask you to approve Governor Reynolds’ request as expeditiously as possible.”
Iowa’s other U.S. senator, Chuck Grassley, similarly wrote to Trump in support.
Trump this week approved an expedited disaster declaration for parts of Nebraska, making federal aid available. Nebraska has estimated its losses at $1.5 billion.
In her letter to Trump, Reynolds estimated minor and major damage to homes at $481 million; to businesses at $300 million; and to agriculture at $214 million. But she noted the loss estimates could grow as the water recedes and officials are able to enter areas they can’t access now.
As of Thursday, she said, the state has spent $268,355 on items like lighting and bottled water for safety and public health concerns, and was spending about $25,000 a week on using resources from the Iowa National Guard for potable water systems for a hospital and for schools.
At the height of the flooding, she said there were 10 shelters operated by the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and other volunteers. By Thursday night, that had lessened to four shelters, housing a total of 40 people, Reynolds wrote. Most of those remaining were driven from their homes in Fremont and Mills counties in southwest Iowa.
Erin Murphy of The Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau contributed.