CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — The dark, filthy water that flooded Iowa's second-largest city finally started to recede Saturday after forcing 24,000 people to flee, but those who remained were urged to cut back on showering and flushing to save the last of their unspoiled drinking water.
A sandbagging siege saved the last of the city's four collection wells from contamination by the record flood. But officials warned that if people didn't cut back the water will run out within three to four days.
"Water is still our primary concern," said Pat Ball, the city's utilities director. "We're still using water at a greater rate than we're producing."
More than 400 city blocks and 3,900 homes were flooded in Cedar Rapids, where early estimates put property damage at $736-million, according to fire department spokesman Dave Koch.
While the Cedar River ebbed in hard-hit Cedar Rapids, a levee breach Saturday in the state capital of Des Moines flooded a neighborhood of more than 200 homes, a high school and about three dozen businesses.
The levee rupture allowed the Des Moines River to pour into the Birdland neighborhood near downtown. Des Moines city crews and National Guard units started to build a temporary berm to stop the water, but by midmorning the water had cut through mounds of dirt and sandbags and inundated homes and other buildings.
In Iowa City, more than 200 homes were evacuated because of the flooded Iowa River, expected to crest Monday or Tuesday. People filled thousands of sandbags at the University of Iowa, but officials were conceding that some buildings should expect 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. Disaster proclamations have been issued for 83 of the state's 99 counties.
Iowa's worst damage so far was in Cedar Rapids, a city of more than 120,000. The Cedar River crested there Friday night at nearly 32 feet, 12 feet higher than the old record set in 1929. City Engineer Dave Elgin said the Cedar River was dropping at a rate of about 2 inches an hour Saturday.
Elsewhere, Illinois emergency authorities said a levee along the Mississippi River in far western Illinois burst Saturday morning and voluntary evacuations were under way in Keithsburg, a town of about 700 residents.
Farther south, rising water prompted officials to close a bridge over the Mississippi connecting Quincy, Ill., to Missouri. Authorities were sandbagging an area around a water treatment facility and other nearby businesses as a precaution.
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama toured Quincy and helped fill sandbags Saturday.
"Since I've been involved in public office, we've not seen this kind of devastation," Obama said of the Midwest flooding. He vowed to push the federal and state governments to provide needed aid to the stricken areas.
Parts of southern Wisconsin have been dealing with flooding for days, and disaster was declared in five counties there Saturday.
President Bush was briefed on the flooding while he was in Paris, and was assured that federal agencies are making plans to help people, White House press secretary Dana Perino said. "He expressed his concern for people who may still be in danger and for those who are hurting from the impact of the storms."