Storm-driven floodwaters surged over large portions of the Midwest this week, inundating communities along the region’s rivers and spoiling millions of acres of corn, soybeans, and other crops. The flooding was blamed for at least five deaths. A third of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, lay under water up to 10 feet deep, and 24,000 residents were forced to abandon their homes to the surging waters. In western Illinois, the Mississippi River broke through two levees, forcing the evacuation of all 50 residents of the town of Meyer. Federal authorities warned that up to 30 levees along the Mississippi could give way if efforts to reinforce them with sandbags failed.
The flooding wiped out as much as 20 percent of Iowa’s corn crop, the nation’s largest, stoking fears that shortages will force already-high food prices even higher. In Illinois, farmers worried that floodwaters teeming with a toxic brew of pesticides, diesel fuel, and animal waste could make much of the state’s cropland unusable. “The corn crop, the bean crop that’s up is all going to be lost,” said Hancock County, Ill., Sheriff John Jefferson. “It’ll take years to get this ground back into shape.”
The floods hit the Midwest, but they “will leave their mark on the entire nation,” said The Boston Globe in an editorial. In addition to ruining more than $1 billion worth of crops, the rising waters have wiped out bridges and rail lines, idling the freight trains that transport much of the Midwest’s farm output. “For the rest of the country, that will almost certainly translate into higher food prices.”
Along with destruction, the disaster has brought “thousands of stories of neighbor helping neighbor,” said Michael Judge in The Wall Street Journal. In Iowa City, hundreds of “students, teachers, and townspeople formed a human chain” to rescue rare books and other cultural treasures from the University of Iowa’s main library. Such scenes remind us that catastrophe can often lead to “renewal, rebirth, a chance at a better life.”
But “much human and economic trauma” could have been prevented if we had only heeded the lessons of previous floods, said Julie Rochman and Rebecca Wodder in The Des Moines Register. Every time a flood strikes, Midwesterners insist on rebuilding in the flood plain, relying on dams and levees to contain the Mississippi’s powerful waters. Then we are shocked when the levees are overwhelmed. It’s time we stopped spending billions of taxpayer dollars trying to fight a battle against Mother Nature that we can never win.