Record-Breaking Floods Ravage Northern Iowa, Causing Evacuations and Trapping Residents in One City

By: Alex Trent | Published: Jun 24, 2024

Heavy rain and overflowing rivers caused extreme devastation across parts of Iowa over the weekend resulting in widespread damage and evacuations.

In several areas, there were disaster declarations and one town was completely cut off from the rest of Iowa for hours due to historic flood water levels.

Rain and Flooding

Roger Vachalek, meteorologist for the National Weather Service told NBC News that a combination of factors was responsible for the historic flooding events.

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Lightning crackles in the sky as dark clouds loom overhead.

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According to Vachalek, direct rain was the impetus for the flooding, but there was also an overflowing of rivers that left their containers and spread toward drier communities downstream.

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Damage in Northern Iowa

Over 20 counties in the Northwest area of Iowa were subjected to record-level floods that damaged an estimated 1,900 properties.

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The flooding aftermath in Rock Valley, Iowa.

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“I can tell you the devastation is severe, and it’s widespread,” said Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds at a press conference on Sunday.

Reynolds Press Conference

At the press conference, Governor Reynolds remarked how strange it was for Iowa to get inundated and have saturated ground after experiencing 4 years of drought.

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The governor of Iowa Kim Reynolds speaks in 2020.

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“Beginning on Friday, some areas go up to 15 inches of rain over two days and of course because the ground was saturated that has resulted in severe flooding across several counties,” said Reynolds.

Rescue Efforts

The quick and historic flooding event took the state off guard, and rescue operations are still ongoing as damage from the flooding is assessed. Hundreds of water rescues have been conducted in the state so far.

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A life saver flotation device hands from a post.

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Reportedly, sixteen different flood gauges in the state recorded historic levels of flooding.

Residents Trapped

In one Iowa City called Spencer, the flood waters cut off access to the town from all sides until they eventually receded.

A Dairy Queen restaurant flooded in Spencer, Iowa.

Source: Rkager8/X

Spencer Fire Chief Jesse Coulson said that the city’s first responders along with ones from other departments had to make 383 water rescues since 5:15 am Saturday.

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Accurate Reading

It was hard for city officials in Spencer to properly estimate the water levels as even their electronic gauges became flooded.

Water running through a tunnel with trees seen in the distance.

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“The electronic gauge that the Iowa Flood Center put in was under water,” Clay County Emergency Management Agency Coordinator Eric Tigges said at the Spencer news conference. “That makes it difficult for us to get an accurate reading.”

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Record Levels

Spencer city officials believe that water from the Little Sioux River crested at 22.1 feet, multiple feet higher than these officials had expected.

A view overlooking the flooding in Spencer Iowa.

Source: Eric Johannsen, TylerJRoney/X

This beats a record set back in 1953 by over 2 feet. Eventually, the water receded enough to where residents who were trapped were able to make it through evacuation routes.

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Civilian Heroism

The intense conditions of the flooding inspired acts of bravery from Iowa residents. The Mondor family in Athon, Iowa set out to just rescue a family member from flooding but ended up saving almost 30 people in their boat.

A life saver flotation device laying on water washed rocks.

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“Anxious, a lot of tears, worried where they were gonna go and where they were gonna stay,” said Ashley and Anthony Mondor and Aaron Kollbaum. “I guess more than anything, it was hard for them to just walk away.”

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Surprising Residents

Bailey Mower, a resident from Spencer, felt that many people underestimated the flooding at first as it ramped up quickly.

A storm cloud brewing over some buildings, photographed from a window. The inside of the cloud is bright white, purple, and orange-red.

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“It was not bad at all, it was just like a little bit on the roads, and then literally within an hour our whole driveway was completely flooded, so it was rising, very quickly,” Mower said.

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Toll of the Damage

It is estimated that over 100 homes were destroyed and more than 1,000 Iowans were forced to shelter in place, being unable to escape the flood waters. An official death or injury toll has not yet been confirmed by a state authority.

Governor of Iowa Kim Reynolds speaks into a microphone on stage.

Source: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

“Businesses are shuttered, main streets have been impacted, hospitals, nursing homes, and other care facilities were evacuated, cities are without power and some are without drinkable water,” said Governor Reynolds during the press conference.

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Just the Beginning

John Benson, director of Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management warned Iowa residents not to lose vigilance as the flood waters from the latest storm recede.

The sign welcoming someone to Sioux falls inhibited by flood waters.

Source: tylerjroney/X, Tim Fuchs

“It’s not going to cease,” Benson said of the storms, rain, thunder, and floods. “It’s going to blossom.” Governor Reynolds also warned that she anticipates adding more counties to the disaster proclamation in the future.

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