Public Safety

Central Iowa flash flooding turns deadly

Scores remain displaced after 'historic' rainfall

Flash flooding Saturday in the Des Moines area dropped 8 inches of rain in a short time in some areas, closing streets and causing a death. (Photo from Des Moines Police Department)
Flash flooding Saturday in the Des Moines area dropped 8 inches of rain in a short time in some areas, closing streets and causing a death. (Photo from Des Moines Police Department)
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Flash flooding that inundated Central Iowa late Saturday turned deadly as gushing waters swept away and killed a Drake University sports announcer, as well as swamped homes and businesses and prompted evacuations.

The worst centered on and around Des Moines, but there also were reports of high winds and hail in Eastern Iowa around Mason City and southwest of Waterloo.

In a briefing Sunday morning, A.J. Mumm, director of emergency management for Polk County, called the storm “historic in terms of sheer rainfall” and said it had led to “fires, explosions and rescues of all types.”

The county received up to 8 inches of rain in some areas in a matter of just a few hours, and while some waterways already were starting to recede, flood warning and watches remained Sunday afternoon.

Shortly before 9 p.m. Saturday, Des Moines police responded to a call about an occupied van stalled on a flooded street. Officers found the van, but no occupants.

After an hourslong search with crews from the Des Moines Fire Department, the first responders found the body of Larry Cotlar several blocks away, the Des Moines Register reported.

Cotlar, 66, was play-by-play announcer for the Drake Bulldogs basketball team since 2005 and an analyst for Bulldogs football since 2013.

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“Drake University and the @DUBulldogs community offers its condolences to the family of Larry Cotlar, who passed away overnight during flooding in Des Moines,” the university said in a tweet Sunday morning.

The suburb of Clive, west of Des Moines, had ordered evacuations late Saturday but later began allowing people to return to some neighborhoods.

“Dozens of Clive residences and businesses have been damaged by flood and stormwater,” the city said in a statement Sunday. But the public library and aquatic center there were damaged by the flooding and remained closed.

In the Polk County area, scores of people remained displaced from their homes Sunday afternoon, emergency managers reported.

According to the National Weather Service, a roof was reported blown off a house in Winterset and hail was reported throughout Central Iowa and a line stretching to Northeast Iowa. Heavy wind gusts were reported in the Mason City area, and trees were reported downed near Traer.

The worst parts of the storm in Eastern Iowa were north of Interstate 80, the weather service said.

In the Cedar Rapids area, heavy rains were reported but no flood advisories has been issued for the area on Sunday.

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