CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Hospital patients in wheelchairs and on stretchers were evacuated in the middle of the night as the biggest flood Cedar Rapids has ever seen swamped more than 400 blocks Friday and all but cut off the supply of clean drinking water in the city of 120,000.
As many as 10,000 townspeople driven from their homes by the rain-swollen Cedar River took shelter at schools and hotels or moved in with relatives.
About 100 miles to the west, officials in Iowa's biggest city, Des Moines, urged people in low-lying areas to clear out by Friday evening. The Des Moines River was expected to crest at 8 p.m., but officials said just before the expected peak that a malfunctioning gauge may have led them to overestimate how high it would rise.
Officials became less worried that the levees would be topped, but U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Roger Less said the city of 190,000 residents would not be out of danger until today.
The flooding was blamed for at least two deaths in Iowa: A driver was killed in an accident on a flooded road, and a farmer who went out to check his property was swept away.
Since June 6, Iowa has gotten at least 8 inches of rain. That came after a wet spring that left the ground saturated. As of Friday, nine rivers were at or above historic flood levels.
More thunderstorms are possible in the Cedar Rapids area over the weekend, but next week is expected to be sunny and dry.
In Cedar Rapids, the engorged river flowed freely through downtown. At least 438 city blocks were under water, and in some neighborhoods the water was 8 feet high. Hundreds of cars were submerged, with only their antennas poking up through the water.
The Cedar River was expected to crest Friday night at nearly 32 feet, an astonishing 12 feet higher than the old record, set in 1929.
Floodwaters have submerged parts of Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Authorities have been forced to close a nearly 300-mile stretch of the upper Mississippi River to all traffic. Scores of bridges across nine overflowing rivers have been weakened or swept away.
The floods also have destroyed acres of corn, soybeans and other crops, prompting worries about a spike in food prices at a time when they already have been rising. "I have real concerns about our agricultural sector," said Gov. Chet Culver, who declared 83 of Iowa's 99 counties disaster areas.
Information from the Associated Press and Washington Post was used in this report.