The flooded river

Day 11: Monday 1st August 2011 – Carroll, Iowa to Grand Island, Nebraska (Click for route)

My journey through Iowa was proving uneventful. I set out from Carrol early and continued west down Hwy-30. When I reached Missouri Valley near the western Iowa state line, the signs of flooding started to become evident. All the store fronts on the main street had walls of sand bags around them. It didn’t look as if the town had flooded but they clearly weren’t taking any chances. I tried to take some photos on the cheap, pre-paid cell phone I had bought in Chicago, but the quality was so poor, it’s not worth posting them. Instead I’ve managed to find an image on Google which is pretty much identical to the Missouri Vally I saw.

Sandbags in Missouri Valley

Sandbags in Missouri Valley

Another sight that stuck me in Missouri Valley was the sign outside the local gun store, opposite the Rialto – “Double Barrel Shooters Supply – The Right of the People to Keep and Bear Arms Shall Not Be Infringed”. Coming from a country where most the police officers are unarmed, and where gun ownership is a tiny minority – usually just farmers with shotguns – this was a bit alien to me. Of course, we hear about the passionate gun debate in the US on TV occasionally, but this was the first evidence of it.

Double Barrel Shooters Supply in Missouri Valley

Double Barrel Shooters Supply in Missouri Valley - image courtesy of Mike Plews (

Further outside the town of Missouri Valley, nearing the Missouri River itself, I found real flooding. Hwy-30 was lined with sand bags forming a makeshift dike, although the road was passable, but on either side the river had burst its banks and all the surrounding fields had been turned into an enormous lake.

Temporary dike on HWY 30 between Missouri Valley and Blair

Temporary dike on HWY 30 between Missouri Valley and Blair - image courtesy of Mike Plews (

The scene was reminiscent of the TV news footage that many in Britain will remember when the river Severn flooded badly in 2007. That particular flood has some very personal memories for me. At the time, I lived in Worcester in a house with some fantastic views right by the banks of the river Severn. After a Friday afternoon of torrential downpours, it was clear the river level was raising, and living so close to the river meant that there could always be the risk of flooding if conditions were bad enough. But the floor of the house had been specially raised and a check with the National Environment Agency information service suggested that the river would peak at 6pm the following day several inches below the level of the floor.

At around 6am the following morning, I woke up to find that the downstairs of the house was nearly a foot deep in water. The raised floor meant wading through waist-deep filthy water as all the local drains and sewers were also overrun by flood water. Luckily, the car was on higher ground and the water had only reached the bottom of the wheels and it started easily. The water continued to rise throughout the day, reaching perhaps 3 feet in the house. After a soaking like that the house stinks. It takes literally weeks and weeks to dry out and needs a complete replastering.Since so many people had been affected by the flood, finding someone to do the reparations is difficult – the backlog was months long. That flood made me effectively homeless for 6 months, and all the possessions on the ground floor were lost. I’m very thankful for having insurance.

I know first hand what an upheaval a flood can be – and that’s just from property damage. My heart goes out to all those affected along the Missouri, and also to those affected by Irene and Lee which both stuck the south and east of the US some weeks into my trip.

A lot of agriculture in the US uses massive irrigators to spray water over crops. Perhaps one of the most pathetic sights I saw was one of these huge irrigators surrounded by water in a field that has now a lake. Alas at this point I still thought I had no means of taking photos, and besides I probably couldn’t have stopped on the dike that was Hwy-30 to take one.

Typical irrigator seen all over the US

The approach to the bridge across the Missouri River was also sand-bagged; but both the road and the bridge were passable. I crossed and continued into Nebraska – the first state I had visited where motorcycle helmets are mandatory.


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