At least four people were killed and dozens more were injured when a tornado touched down at a Boy Scout camp in western Iowa today, officials said.
Courtney Greene, a spokeswoman for Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, said she did not know the ages of the people killed, but said there were 93 scouts and 25 staff members at the Little Sioux Scout Ranch when the tornado hit at approximately 7 p.m. CT.
The governor has issued an emergency proclamation for Monona County, where the twister touched down, even as the eastern part of the state is suffering the worst flooding it has had in 15 years, forcing hundreds of people to move to higher ground to avoid rising rivers.
A spokeswoman for the Boy Scouts of America's Mid-American Council in Omaha also told the Des Moines Register that there were four deaths. She said the youths, aged 14 to 18, were at the ranch for a week-long leadership training camp called Pahuk Pride.
"That's all we know at this point," scouting spokeswoman Arli Hasbrouck told the Register. "We've got lots of scouters on their way to help."
The Associated Press reported that emergency officials were heard on a police scanner reporting the injuries at the Little Sioux Scout Ranch, which is located in the Loess Hills, just north of Council Bluffs.
In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, officials today urged residents to evacuate homes along the swollen Cedar River. Farther upstream, in parts of Waterloo, Iowa, the situation was even more urgent.
"This is not a recommendation, this is not an encouragement, this is a mandatory evacuation," Waterloo's Mayor Tim Hurley said, ordering residents to leave about 60 threatened homes and 30 businesses. "We need you out of there."
The evacuations came a day after fast-moving waters swept away one Waterloo railroad bridge and shut down five others. About 1,000 people in Cedar Falls worked furiously Tuesday to reinforce a levee with sandbags to keep the Cedar River from swamping the town's center. So far, it seems to be holding.
"[I'm] trying to save the place where I grew up," said one woman who helped build the sandbag levee. "I love this town, and I'd do anything for it. [I'm] just trying to protect it."
Steve Schomaker, a partner in a local insurance company, said, "I've been downtown for 37 years, and I have never seen anything like this." The Cedar River topped 102 feet early this morning, beating a 1999 record of 99.2 feet. But by late afternoon, it had started to recede.
Flooding Could Raise Costs Throughout the Food Chain
Besides the immediate damage to homes and businesses, raging floodwaters also threaten to stunt the region's economy and raise already heightened food prices.
Soaked cornfields pose problems for farmers in places like Indiana, where Russell Meade showed off cornstalks that barely reached his ankle. Last year at this time, the corn was knee-high.
"I haven't seen it this low since I started farming 10 years ago," Meade said. The Midwest corn crop is already estimated to be 10 percent smaller than last year's, and further flood damage could cause a domino-down effect, pushing livestock feed prices higher and triggering other cost hikes all the way up the food chain.
In Missouri, farmers are trying to salvage soybean crops by pumping out their fields. "All we can do right now is take a wait-and-see approach and pump and hope for the best," said one farmer.
The region, however, isn't expected to dry out until at least next week. Storms are in the forecast for Thursday.
A flooded Mississippi River is making matters worse for farmers and consumers. The river is swollen to more than 10 feet above flood stage, making it impossible to operate the locks on the river that allow barges to navigate it.
The Army Corps of Engineers has closed more than 150 miles of the river from Iowa all the way to Missouri, shutting down a "highway" that carries much of the region's corn, grain, soybeans and wheat.
"Right now, it's going to affect commercial navigation going north and south on the river," said Ron Fournier at the Army Corps of Engineers. Fournier said he expected the shutdown to last "for about two weeks, depending on the rainfall."
Levee Gives Way in Illinois
The National Weather Service issued flash flood warnings for parts of Missouri, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin.
The President Casino in St. Louis, Mo., didn't like the odds it faced with rising waters, and shut down for the second time this spring.
In Illinois, levee breaks in the southeastern portion of the state flooded 50 to 75 square miles of farmland along the Embarrass River, forcing evacuations of homes northeast of Lawrenceville, Ill.
One hundred miles north of Indianapolis, in Elnora, Ind., sandbags and concrete barriers held back the White River. The river rose to flood stage, forcing residents to watch and wait.
The majority of people voluntarily left after evacuation orders came late Monday, two days after the area received up to 10 inches of rain. "We have a very touch-and-go situation there, but everything that can be done has been done," Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said.
Most towns along the Mississippi River are protected by levees, but outlying areas could be flooded. Canton, Mo., about 150 miles north of St. Louis, could get the worst of the Mississippi River's flooding. The town of 2,500 is expected to see a crest on June 18 that is nearly 12 feet above flood stage.
Mayor Joe Clark said the levee is high enough to protect the community, but a sandbagging operation is planned to make sure it holds. "I would say we're taking it in stride at this point," Clark told the AP. "We live with this all the time."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.