As President Bush flew over the flood-ravaged Midwest today in a helicopter tour of the area, the views he took in were nearly as awe-inspiring as they are devastating.
Entire towns, now evacuated, sleep soundly under the rushing mighty Mississippi or Iowa Rivers. Thousands of acres of crops, usually swayed only by the wind, are now pushed about by the water's current. More than one levee was breached today and over two dozen more are still in danger.
Yet when President Bush disembarked from Air Force One in Iowa today, he smiled and looked at ease. According to a recent Federal Emergency Management Agency teleconference, there may be reason behind his composure.
"The FEMA of today is not the FEMA of 2005. We took the lessons of Katrina and applied them," said Glenn Cannon, assistant administrator in the Disaster Operations Directorate of FEMA. "We have risen to the level that the public expects from us."
Though the flooding crisis is more than a week old, FEMA officials claim that their agency is now an "active" agency rather than "reactive," citing the 3.6 million liters of drinking water, nearly 200,000 Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) and nearly 13 million sandbags FEMA and its partners have deployed in flooded or endangered areas. And more are on the way.
According to David Garratt, FEMA deputy assistant administrator, more than 33,000 applications for individual assistance have been filed with FEMA, each of which received an answer in an average of "10 seconds or less."
Though the agency has to balance reconstructive operations in areas that have already been flooded with emergency response operations in endangered areas downstream, Garratt is confident in the future.
"We have met every requirement. There have been no shortfalls," Garratt said. "We think we're going to be able to meet whatever requirements that are going to emerge."
Additionally, on Wednesday, Congress agreed to allocate $2 billion in disaster relief for those hit hardest by the flooding.
Garratt also emphasized the value of individual contributions in greatly assisting FEMA in emergency response, and especially in meeting the demand for temporary housing.
"Thanks to that great midwesterly neighborliness, requirements on our shoulders are much less than you'd expect," Garratt said.
Along with providing shelter for those left out of home, volunteers also are flocking in from near and far to do what they can to help.
Susan Lubbe told "Good Morning America" that she drove from Chicago to her hometown of Quincy, Ill., along with her boyfriend, to help fill sandbags.
"My house is past help. So we're trying to save everybody else's," said Bethany Frank, as she helped fill sandbags in a church parking lot in Oakville, Iowa. Her home on the outskirts of town was flooded up to the roof.
Trucking company owners Trina and Ward Gabeline gathered more than 30 trucks to help Oakville families load their belongings and carry them to higher ground.
"We didn't do it expecting to get paid," Trina Gabeline told the AP. "We did it to help the people. Because these things that are in these trailers, that's the only thing these people have left right now."
The volunteers are joined by nearly 2,000 National Guard members that have been deployed in parts of Missouri, Illinois and Iowa.
Although more than 20 levees have been overcome and many have given way, Hank Dehaan, the Army Corps of Engineers' program manager for the Rock Island, Ill., district, said the levees are in good shape and are not failing in the face of water pressure against them.
Dehaan said the problem is that once the floodwaters top a levee and flow down the other side, the rushing water washes away the base of the levee, causing it at times to crumble.
Though so many levees have been toppled, the key to protecting the remaining ones is simple to many: Work hard.
"There's one thing about Midwesterners," Don Giltner, mayor of Louisiana, Mo., told The Associated Press. "We're resilient as hell. We're all worn out. We've put in a lot of long days."
In the city of Louisiana, 40 square blocks are underwater, a full three days before the Mississippi River is expected to crest.
In Clarksville, Mo., where tourists are invited to "touch the Mississippi," people like Helen Mirick pray the river doesn't touch them.
"It's important to save our little town," she told "GMA."
Not everyone is as confident as the FEMA officials.
"I really don't have much of an opinion of his coming," Lashawn Baker, 33, told the AP about President Bush's visit. Baker's family was starting to clean her flooded home in a hard-hit southwest Cedar Rapids neighborhood. "It took him a long time to get to New Orleans and he didn't help any of those people, so I don't think he's going to do anything to help Cedar Rapids now that he's here."
So far, the flooding has caused 24 deaths, 148 injuries and more than $1.5 billion in estimated damage in Iowa alone.