Receding water on Sunday revealed the widespread damage caused by a record flood crest, while other Iowa cities faced rivers that were still rising.
The Cedar River had fallen to 24.6 feet Sunday, more than five feet below the crest of 31.1feet it reached Friday.
“As the river recedes, we're beginning to see the incredible destruction that is left behind,” said Dave Koch, spokesman for the city of Cedar Rapids, where the worst flooding has taken place.
Houseboats torn from their moorings by the current were smashed against a partially collapsed railroad bridge and fish were occasionally flopping on city streets. High water marks on buildings were visible 5 feet above the ground or higher, and formerly submerged cars were beginning to emerge from the water.
Warnings about the dangers of walking in the polluted, debris-strewn water prompted hundreds of people to line up at a downtown clinic Sunday morning for free tetanus shots.
The city planned to set up 10 checkpoints where residents will have to show ID and sign in before being allowed to return home to begin removing belongings. Houses where damage is severe will remain off limits, Koch said.
Koch said additional National Guard troops were being deployed to the city to help secure the perimeter around the flood area.
He said it would be two to three more days before the river drops enough so crews can begin pumping water back over the levees, and another week before the river falls below flood stage.
The flooding in Cedar Rapids swamped 1,300 city blocks, forced 24,000 people to flee their homes and nearly shut off the drinking water supply for the state's second-largest city.
But as the Cedar River retreated, the Iowa River was still rising at Iowa City, where water had already invaded parts of the University of Iowa campus and wasn't expected to crest until today or Tuesday.
“This is our version of Katrina,” Johnson County Emergency Management spokesman Mike Sullivan said of the flooding in Iowa City. “This is the worst flooding we've ever seen – much worse than 1993,” when much of the Midwest was hit by record flooding.
At least three deaths in Iowa have been attributed to the storms and subsequent flooding, and 12 more have died in two recent tornadoes.
Elsewhere in the Midwest, hundreds of members of the Illinois National Guard headed to communities along the swollen Mississippi River on Sunday for sandbagging duty while emergency management officials eyed rain-swollen rivers across the state.