WASHINGTON – Gayle Olson and Melissa Feilmeier aren't part of the relief effort in Iowa. They're from Winfield,a small town 30 miles south of Iowa City. The area,like much of the state,is flooded.
They traveled to Washington as project coordinators for the civic education program We the People. Olson heard the State Society of Iowa was hosting a fundraiser Monday to benefit the victims of Iowa's recent floods and tornadoes.
They watched as dozens of people strolled on the rooftop of an office building on Constitution Avenue near the Capitol for the event. But the evening was ironically cut short. Clouds crowded the skies and rain began to fall,so the party-goers crammed in an elevator lobby just inside.
Despite an abrupt end,the event raised more than $75,000 from guests and mail-in contributions.
Secretary of Agriculture Edward Schafer and Rep. Tom Latham,R-Iowa,spoke in the small space to update the crowd.
“We have personnel in every affected county,and we're in the process of not only assessing the damage but also started the rebuilding process,” Schafer said. “I was in Iowa with the president,and as we walked around to see the heroic efforts that were done by people to save property,land and homes. The recovery takes a long time. … But we at the USDA are prepared to be with you to deliver all of the programs that we can.”
While most returned to their homes in Washington,Olson,52,was reminded of the hardships that await her and her husband,Jeff,back home. The couple owns a grain farm in Winfield,but they haven't sold much grain since most of the roads are closed.
“One of the biggest effects on us is all the grain terminals are closed flooded or damaged. There's no way to sell grain right now and there's no cash flow,” Feilmeier,28,said. “The farmers haven't been able to go out to the fields and see what's going on because there are wet spots everywhere,even where it's not flooded.”
According to the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation,1.3 million acres of corn was lost as well as 2 million acres of soybeans,totaling an estimated $3 billion in losses for Iowa farmers.
Latham,who represents the north-central part of the state,said the relief effort will take more than just a fundraiser after meeting with the Army Corps of Engineers and Federal Emergency Management Agency on Friday.
“There are still some holes out there that we need to work on obviously,” he said. “Just agricultural losses are probably around $2-to-$3 billion. I think you've got a lot more than that in the communities – all the clean-up,all the repair,some buildings. And a lot of communities will have to be brought down and replaced,so there's just no way to know right now how much we're going to need.”
FEMA has more than 600 representatives in Iowa,and their efforts seem to be working, Latham said.
Although more than 38,656 people evacuated their homes,Schafer said only 600 are in shelters. Most evacuees are living with relatives and friends.
The State Society of Iowa hosted the fundraiser in conjunction with the Capital Area Iowa Club,Iowa State University Alumni Association,University of Northern Iowa Alumni Association,Drake University National Alumni Association and several business groups and embassies.