Floodwaters force 100s to evacuate NE Iowa town

Posted: 06/25/13 at 9:20 am EDT      Last Updated: 06/25/13 at 1:42 pm EDT

NEW HARTFORD, Iowa (AP) -- Hundreds of residents obeyed an order to evacuate their homes in a northeast Iowa town Tuesday before floodwaters from a rising creek could strand them.

"We have a critical condition on the town of New Hartford," said Butler County emergency management coordinator Mitch Nordmeyer as he surveyed the town, which sits about 90 miles northeast of Des Moines.

"Everybody was notified and told to evacuate," Nordmeyer said. "If they stayed they were staying at their own risk."

New Hartford's 500-plus residents were notified via a telephone emergency system on Monday about the dangers posed by nearby Beaver Creek, which flooded the town in 2008. The mandatory evacuation order came early Tuesday morning.

Up to 50 emergency services workers, sheriff's deputies and firefighters began to help townspeople flee at 3 a.m., before the water got too high and when boats and high-centered vehicles would have been required for rescues. Nordmeyer estimated that about a third of the town's residents remained.

"Pretty much everyone who wants out is out, at this point," he said, adding that a sandbagged road to the north presented the only remaining route out of town. An emergency shelter was set up six miles away in Shell Rock.

Nordmeyer estimated that the water was already 3 feet deep on the east side of town, and said floodwaters were pouring into the west side of town as well. The creek has topped a levy that surrounds the town on the east side near the elementary school, Nordmeyer said. He also suspected a breach had occurred Tuesday morning on a gravel road about three miles west of town that works as a makeshift levy. Officials couldn't get there to confirm his suspicions, he said.

Beaver Creek rose three feet above flood stage and crested at 15.15 feet by 7:45 a.m. Tuesday. The National Weather Service said most of New Hartford floods when the creek rises to 14 feet. The weather service said the creek was at 14.8 feet as of noon Tuesday and the water continues to recede. It is expected to return to the creek by Wednesday evening.

The expected crest is about half a foot short of the record of 15.7 feet set in June 2008, and it is two feet higher than when the creek caused flooding last month.

"In 2008 we were completely inundated. There wasn't much dry land," said Paul Fobian, who does part-time maintenance for the town.

The National Weather Service said more than 7 inches of rain fell Monday in portions of the Beaver Creek basin, ground that was already saturated. The rest of Butler County is under a flash flood watch until Wednesday morning. Nordmeyer said other weather watchers in the area reported up to 10 inches of rain over the past 36 hours.

He said a couple of thunderstorms had passed over the town after the evacuations began Tuesday, but that the storms didn't drop much rain.

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