CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — The Cedar River poured over its banks here Thursday, forcing the evacuation of more than 3,000 homes, causing a railroad bridge to collapse and leaving cars under water on downtown streets.
Officials estimated that 100 blocks were under water in Cedar Rapids, where several days of preparation could not hold back the rain-swollen river. Rescuers had to use boats to reach many stranded residents, and people could be seen dragging suitcases up closed highway exit ramps to escape the water.
About 3,200 homes were evacuated and some 8,000 residents displaced, officials estimated.
Days of heavy rain across the state have sent nine rivers across Iowa at or above historic flood levels. Residents were already steeling themselves for floods before storms late Wednesday and early Thursday brought up to 5 inches of rain across west central Iowa.
"We are seeing a historic hydrological event taking place with unprecedented river levels occurring," said Brian Pierce, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Davenport. "We're in uncharted territory — this is an event beyond what anybody could even imagine."
Gov. Chet Culver has declared 55 of the state's 99 counties as state disaster areas.
Meanwhile, deaths blamed on the East Coast's recent heat wave climbed past 30 Thursday with various coroner's reports, and 15 of the deaths were in Philadelphia alone. Most of the victims in Philadelphia and elsewhere were elderly.