Officials moved paintings, books and documents out of harm's way on Sunday as record flooding in parts of the U.S. Midwest partly submerged the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City. Fifteen campus buildings were flooded, including the Iowa Museum of Art, despite what university president Sally Mason termed "herculean efforts" to contain the rushing Iowa River.
IOWA CITY, Iowa (Reuters) - Officials moved paintings, books and documents out of harm's way on Sunday as record flooding in parts of the U.S. Midwest partly submerged the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City.
Fifteen campus buildings were flooded, including the Iowa Museum of Art, despite what university president Sally Mason termed "herculean efforts" to contain the rushing Iowa River.
"We did our best with the first 15, in many cases, but it wasn't quite enough," Mason said. "Mother Nature took over."
"The campus has been hit hard. The city has been hit hard," said Michael Sullivan of Johnson County Emergency Management.
Flood waters prompted the removal of valuable items from the university's Arts Campus, and nearly 1,000 homes were inundated in Iowa City and neighboring Coralville, Sullivan said.
Summer school classes were suspended and many roads were impassable, though the university's hospital was operating.
Across Iowa, 36,000 people were displaced by the flooding and "millions of acres" were submerged, officials said.
In downtown Cedar Rapids, where the water shut a giant cereal factory, business owners were escorted to offices on upper floors via an elevated "skywalk" to retrieve laptop computers and documents.
Gov. Chet Culver said Iowa's losses totaled in the billions of dollars, with 83 of 99 counties declared disasters and seeking federal aid.
Four people have died in flood-related incidents -- including a woman found in her flooded home in Cedar Rapids -- and 12 have been killed by tornadoes.
The Iowa River in Iowa City reached its record crest, officials said, but water levels were still rising downstream.
The Cedar River was dropping in Cedar Rapids, as was the Des Moines River in Des Moines. All flow into the Mississippi River, which also was rising.
Mostly clear weather was forecast for the coming week.
Des Moines authorities opened a second breach in a broken levee built to hold back the Des Moines River to allow flood waters to escape a neighborhood. They lifted a voluntary evacuation order for the rest of the state capital.
In Cedar Rapids, where 9 square miles were flooded and the damage was estimated at more than $700 million, dozens of evacuated residents waited to get a look at their damaged homes.
"People are anxious to get into their homes," said City Councilman Jerry McGrane, who left three cats behind in his flooded home. "You have some sunshine here, you've got no rain, and the water is going down, and they're saying 'why the hell can't I get back in there?'"
The retreating water exposed a thick muck that officials warned may contain hazardous chemicals.
"My thoughts and prayers go out to those who have suffered from the floods in our country. I know there's a lot of people hurting right now," said President George W. Bush, who is visiting France, after attending a church service.
Flooding also hit parts of Kansas, Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana. It disrupted businesses and tourism, and shut down factories and grain and meat processing plants.
Heavy spring rains have delayed planting of crops and submerged farm fields, sparking a record spike in corn prices and price jumps for other commodities. The flooding may aggravate an upsurge in commodity and food inflation, increasing the cost of making fuel like ethanol from corn.
Girding for the watery onslaught along the Mississippi River, officials in Illinois and eastern Iowa dumped sand, barricaded roads and marshaled resources for the aftermath.
A 300-mile (480-km) stretch of the vital waterway has been closed to barge traffic.