The sound of water rushing over Interstate 680 can be heard from the Mormon Bridge, but the destruction to the Interstate system is not visible until you are right on top of it.
U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said he wants to make sure the Missouri River never causes such damage again.
Iowa Department of Natural Resources boats ferried King and several members of the news media along I-680 to Interstate 29 on Thursday.
The damage to the highway was evident as water rushed over stretches where the road had been washed away. Ramps to the Interstate have buckled, and mangled concrete is piled up, offering resistance to the rushing water.
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The boats also circled two homes that been evacuated and flooded by the river.
“These were homes to somebody I don't know. Idyllic places, like an oasis in the bottom lands,” King said.
“Some will decide it's too costly to move back or not worth living under the risk it will happen again,” King said. “And that's too bad.”
While King has seen flood damage many times flying over the area in airplanes and helicopters, he said he was amazed at the scope and sound of the disaster from ground level.
“From the air, you see the water coming across the Interstate, but you don't see that parts of 680 are gone,” he said.
Mark Sedlmayr, the Natural Resources Department's district supervisor, said the water's power is impressive.
“It's surreal to think that it has been like this since June 1,” Sedlmayr said.
King announced he would introduce legislation to mandate that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers immediately adjust its master manual to be able to hold back more water at the six large dams on the Missouri River.
The last time the corps adjusted the master manual, King said, the process took 14 years. This time, it can't wait that long, King said.
“This is the largest runoff in history,” he said. “The corps plans for 16.3 million acre-feet of flood-storage capacity, which is runoff from the flood of 1881.”
King said his legislation would not set a new capacity level, but he estimated that if it passed, the corps would set the level near 20 million acre-feet.
“We want the corps to store that water rather than having it come down on us,” he said. “I don't ever want to see this again.”
King also said he hoped the Federal Emergency Management Agency would grant an extension request from Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad on an appeal for funds through the federal Individual Assistance Program.
On Aug. 4, FEMA notified Branstad that an application for assistance for Fremont, Harrison, Monona, Pottawattamie and Woodbury Counties was denied. Branstad has said the decision will be appealed.
The program, available to homeowners, renters and businesses, can include grants and low-interest loans to help pay for temporary housing, home repairs and other disaster-related expenses not covered by insurance or other aid programs.
The state has 30 days to appeal the decision. However, since the floodwater will recede slowly, Branstad is asking FEMA for an extension of the appeal period to Nov. 15, so that it may include damages that surface beyond that 30-day time period.
King said it is difficult to quantify the damage that remains under water. He also said that Iowa has suffered more damage than Nebraska, which received approval for individual assistance for nine counties last week.
Patrick Hall, recovery bureau chief for the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division, said there were a number of reasons why Nebraska's individual assistance was approved and Iowa's was denied.
Hall said that by population, Nebraska is considered a “small” state, with a population of less than 2 million people. Iowa, he said, is considered a “medium” state, with a population of between 2 million and 10 million. Being a medium state means more damage must be shown.
Hall said there were other differences, including demographics, income levels, the number of people who had insurance and primary versus secondary homes.
“To say the least, we were disappointed,” Hall said of FEMA's decision. “But we only get one appeal, and we want to make sure we do it right.”
“I'm confident Iowa will eventually get a disaster declaration,” King said. “I'm optimistic, yes, but there is too much at stake to take it for granted.”
VIDEO: We asked people in Omaha how they thought the Corps has handled the flooding situation thus far