Iowa

Someone posted on my neighborhood listserve this morning, wondering "where are the cries for help for
the poor people of Iowa? Are they less deserving than the people of Louisiana?"  The question wasn’t from someone I know, and maybe I’m misjudging him, but my interpretation of the subtext was "all you people who were so dramatic about Katrina weren’t really worried about the people, but looking for a reason to beat up on Bush."

My impression is that the floods in the midwest have caused massive displacement, and overwhelming property loss, but that there’s been relatively little loss of life.  Kari Lyderson writes at Rooflines about the contrast between the disasters and suggests a few causes:

  1. The local governments are far more functional.
  2. Most people displaced in Iowa are staying with friends and family; in New Orleans, many of the affected had no social networks outside of the city.
  3. Those from outside helping (FEMA, National Guard, volunteers)  have positive impressions of the people they are helping: "To put it bluntly, law enforcement and volunteers in Iowa were not
    afraid of or harboring deep-seated hatred toward the people they were
    trying to help."  I mentioned this idea to someone at work, and she commented that if Iowans break store windows, they’ll be seen as "getting needed supplies" not "looting."

That said, I do think it took a ridiculously long time for the East Coast media to figure out that this was a major story.  One of my colleagues is from Iowa, and she was stressing last week when the flooding started.  I hadn’t heard the news, so went online to look, and discovered that there wasn’t a single mention of the flooding on the Washington Post’s website at the time. 

Via Crunchy Granola, I found Boomerific’s postings about the flooding.

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12 Responses to “Iowa”

  1. K Says:

    When I moved to the Midwest from VA, I was astonished to realize how east-coast biased the national news is. Specifically, the morning shows.
    Just last week, when entire towns in our county were completely under water, Matt Lauer was going on and on and on about the east coast heat wave. Certainly, that’s an important story. But it took an entire house sliding into a river for them to actually report on the WI flooding!

  2. Christine Says:

    I have been thinking the same thing about the media delay in covering this story. I could care less about the election when people are being flooded out of their homes.
    I am also awaiting the onslaught of racist emails from friends and family comparing the midwest floods with Katrina.
    It is unbelievable how levee after levee is breaking.

  3. jeem Says:

    It also doesn’t help that Iowa is much, much, much less densely populated than New Orleans, or that one doesn’t have to travel hundreds of miles to escape an overflowing river, or that most Midwestern adults remember the last time there was a bad flood (1993) and therefore have some idea on how to handle it.
    I can completely believe that all those levees are breaking, though; all that water exerts a *lot* of pressure, and if there are any minor structural issues in one spot then the additional pressure will exacerbate them.

  4. jen Says:

    Iowans breaking store windows? Have you ever met an Iowan? They would just call the grocer at home and tell them to come down and open up. Or they would already have keys.
    I tend to agree with several of your points above, Elizabeth. Iowa’s government is pretty functional. Also let’s not ignore the fact that the levee break for Katrina and the resulting flooding happened in a matter of hours. The Iowa flooding has been developing over the last month or so; people had much more warning. I also wonder about population density. Because the people and towns are so much more spread out, the damage is more gradual and the overall numbers lower. It’s easier to handle evacuating a few hundred people at a time, versus thousands in a matter of hours.
    At the risk of offending some, I’ll say that I think part of this is just media bias towards a specific kind of story, with a heightened level of “drama” (i.e. conflict and screaming) and certain kinds of photo ops. With some notable exceptions, such as the aerial shots of the river miles outside its banks, the visuals of this flood are perhaps not what the media thinks of as an Official Disaster. People calmly packing their stuff and then heading off to Aunt Vi’s for a couple of weeks is not very camera-worthy, and the people in Iowa are not as likely to give the sort of screaming-crying-carrying-on interview the journalists really want. And so we end up with endless loops of photos of people sandbagging. (Bonus points if the sandbaggers are Amish and wearing funny clothes.)
    I would be happier about the whole thing if the coverage weren’t so focused on short-term property damage but was mentioning the beyond-historic scale of this flood. This flood broke the last record by SIX FEET. This is WAY worse than anything has been in the past — Cedar Rapids proper has never experienced a flood before, ever, because it is so far up. What does this mean? What have we done that we’re getting this kind of bizarre weather, this much water? At least the Iowans can see it for what it is. Witness the e-mails I’m getting from my good Lutheran relatives: “God is angry with us. We have ruined the environment.”

  5. Sarah Says:

    How interesting. I’m in Wisconsin and so the lack of coverage hasn’t really been something I’ve thought about. I guess I have noticed in that I love online news and it has been disappointing; I have been getting most of the weather coverage from the local newspaper or local television news.
    My dad regularly volunteers for the Red Cross and he has been disturbingly unbusy. Our county hasn’t been affected very much, but you’d think in these situations they would haul in everyone. I guess that experience has made me even downplay some of the news. Even the local media is starting to comment only on the inconvenience of it all.
    Thanks for the perspective shift.

  6. RSBasch Says:

    Having observed 3 “100 year” floods in roughly a year in the western Catskills I am not unsympathetic to those in the waters path but to compare the effects (and media coverage) of a flood that developed over 3-4 weeks and impacts river frontage of close to a thousand miles and thankfully appears to have taken few lives to one that developed in a matter of hours, focused in a large city and which killed more than 1800 people (~700 are still listed as missing), seems a bit bizarre to me. In addition, the human response to disasters has a kinetic component that maddens public health workers. If 2 Boeing 767s crashed in one day killing 450 people, the coverage would be non-stop. That is the current death rate from lung cancer in the US (i.e. 450 per day). Disasters that occur slowly become routine.

  7. Christine Says:

    But I still find it odd that a station like CNN is not using coverage of this flood more to politicize global warming, something I am in agreement with. This flood can offer alot of issues such as using corn for ethanol. Whole crops were destroyed in this event, food prices are rising. And so on and so on.

  8. hypatia cade Says:

    As someone in an area directly affected by the flooding it is very interesting to me to hear how it was covered nationally. We had a week or so of all-flood-all-the-time coverage. The news and local officials did a good job of getting word out and ordering mandatory evacuations in time to protect both people and property. And at least in my particular town the damage is pretty evenly divided between ritzy homes, mobile home parks, and commercial property. Government property actually bore the brunt.
    All in all, it has been community building (look at all my neighbors who turned out to help) rather than community destroying at this point. The times had an op-ed yesterday about the sandbagging efforts that closely reflect my own experience.
    It will be interesting to see how the rebuilding efforts go. At least currently there is a lot of local attention and the ecumenical communities are committing to a long term rebuilding.

  9. sster Says:

    You know, all through this I have been thinking to myself, “this is bad, but it’s no Katrina.” There are so many differences, chief among them class. To leave you have to have warning, transportation, somewhere to go, and the means to say “it’s just stuff” and walk away. As high and mighty as I might feel given that my material loss means so little to me, I recognize that the ability of my friends and family to help me replace everything I lost plays a big part in my attitude.
    Nobody in Iowa has had to plead for help. It just came. The same cannot be said for NOLA.

  10. Rick Jones Says:

    A growing number of people are “working poor”. That means they work full time but live in relative poverty because of low pay and high costs of living. If someone like this is victimized by an IRS wage levy the effects can be devastating. Unfortunately the IRS won’t go away. Fortunately there is reasonably priced help available. Get your hands on a copy of the DVD by Attorney Darrin Mish, “How to Get a Release From an IRS Wage Levy.”

  11. Elizabeth Says:

    Interesting piece on how the flooded areas of Cedar Rapids were lower-income on average than the rest of the city:
    http://www.desmoinesregister.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080813/NEWS10/808130366/1011

  12. amy Says:

    You seem to have a lot of Iowan readers, Elizabeth.
    I think Jen had it right when she said Iowans are less prone to hysterical carrying on. That doesn’t mean there’s no devastation, it doesn’t mean that people got to get up and walk away, and it doesn’t mean that profound damage is limited to low-income individuals and families.
    Iowa is not a wealthy state or a young one. $50K is real money here, and people tend not to have millions socked away for retirement. One worthless, mortgaged house — and it takes surprisingly little water to make a house structurally unsound — can wipe out a dual-professional-income family, particularly if it’s mortgaged to the hilt because the parents were trying to help the kids get through college.
    Yes, these people are still getting up and going to work, still getting by, but God only knows how they’re going to pay off those six-digit loans while renting a place to live. Sure, they can default; if they do, it looks to me like banks will take their retirement savings, because the houses are worthless. Many of these people did not live in 100-year floodplains, did not have (or were told they couldn’t buy) flood insurance, and aren’t eligible for FEMA buyouts. Meanwhile, they’re liable not only for their mortgages but for their municipal taxes on the previously assessed value of the now-worthless homes.
    One serious worry in both Cedar Rapids and Iowa City is the risk of predatory development in flooded areas that were not previously low-income. We do have gangs and violent crime here; we have considerable inmigration from large Midwest cities, and it’s largely Section-8 driven. The people bring their problems with them, as surely as they bring them from NYC to the Poconos. And there is money for corporate landlords to build low-income housing. So if a flooded middle-class neighborhood is ineligible for FEMA buyout, but the former residents need cash and are willing to sell to slum-builders who’ll raze and rebuild, this presents real worries for people on neighboring blocks whose homes escaped flooding.
    Jen’s also right about the lack of realism in the looting-Iowans scenario and the more serious issue being what the flood means, weatherwise. My guess is you won’t see much municipal or university building going on areas that were flooded, and that officials are waiting to see how soon those areas are flooded again.
    As far as houses in the 100-year floodplain goes, well, it’s not surprising that those were lower-income neighborhoods. Higher incomes generally go along with home ownership, habits of property maintenance and planning, acquaintance with topo maps, etc. We know the Cedar and Iowa Rivers flood, and can flood big. I live on a hill in part because I moved here in 1993, the year of the last big flood, and when it came time to buy I knew I didn’t want the river in my basement. People like me make hundred-year floodplain property cheap, so that’s where cheap housing goes.

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