Flooding rivers across Iowa forced residents to evacuate, swamped crops, closed pork plants and other businesses and shut down highways and barge traffic, authorities said on Thursday. Iowa Governor Chet Culver said storm and water damage to infrastructure will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Nine rivers were at or near record levels, he said. More rain has been forecast for the coming days.

"It hits everything. Colleges are shut down, stores, it's devastating," said Lisa Fox, vice president of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry. "Cedar Rapids is completely shut down," she said of Iowa's second-largest city, where dozens of city blocks were flooded and a rail bridge collapsed. Some100 city blocks in the city were flooded.

On top of the marauding floodwaters, deadly tornadoes struck Iowa and neighboring Kansas. "This has been a remarkable onslaught of weather -- everything from flooding, unbelievable rain and of course tornadoes -- all descending at once," Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff told reporters. Chertoff said government relief would be forthcoming and noted the department was also keeping resources in reserve ahead of the onset of hurricane season.

The region's agriculture economy has been battered by the destruction and disruption caused by the flooding. "It's the worst in recent memory, at a time when demand has never been higher" for food and (animal) feed, said Gavin Maguire, an analyst with Iowa Grain in Chicago. "We can't rule out $8 corn at all. We haven't even gotten to the critical growing phase for the corn crop -- we're above $7, having just finished planting. If we have a real burning July, anything goes, in terms of price," he said.

Levee failures have forced thousands out of their homes. A section of Interstate 80 will be closed on Friday for several days, and Iowa officials urged truckers to avoid traversing the state. Several factories were shut down in Iowa and neighboring states either because they lacked power or workers could not reach them. Among the closures were a Deere & Co facility in Waterloo, a Cargill corn processing facility and livestock slaughtering plants operated by Tyson Foods.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Thursday shut down two of nine locks on the upper Mississippi River, stalling barge traffic on 200 miles of the vital waterway. George Stringham, a spokesman for the corps, said projected crests on the Mississippi were the highest since an epic 1993 flood.

The forecast doesn’t bring much hope. "The only thing changing with this weather pattern is that we're going from wet and mild to wet and cool," said Mike Palmerino, forecaster with DTN Meteorlogix.

Source: Reuters