MOVILLE, Iowa -- Diane Pilar surveyed the fast moving water that flooded Iowa Highway 140 in Moville Thursday morning.
"It is not often you see whitecaps on the highway," Pilar said with a sour smile.
Pilar stood in a home just the highway, which was covered with several feet of water from the nearby West Fork of the Little Sioux River, which had roared out of its banks due to heavy rainfall and snow melt. She talked with Moville residents along the highway such as Mark Heger, whose basement had water several feet deep.
"We have a couple of houses that have water around them completely," Moville Mayor Jim Fisher said.
Highway 140 is the main entry point into Moville from U.S. Highway 20, which also was partially underwater Thursday. The flooding forced state officials to temporarily set up a detour for westbound traffic on the four-lane highway. Later in the day, the highway reopened, but traffic was reduced to one lane in each direction.
With other areas in the southwest part of town also inundated with water, Fisher declared a state of emergency for Moville, population 1,625.
The mayor pointed to the 4-Way convenience store, a typically busy hub for Moville, which lies where Highways 20 and 140 meet. Deep water surrounded the c-store, an adjacent car wash and was up to the edge of Haskell Pool, the city's swimming spot.
"One person drove into the water, his pickup stalled, (he) had hypothermia, with water up to the windows," Fisher said. Emergency crews had to extricate the man about 5:30 a.m. Thursday, Fisher said.
Just before noon, an emergency declaration for all of Woodbury County was signed by the county board of supervisors. By noon Thursday residents were evacuated in Hornick, a town of about 209, as the West Fork flooded and a levee broke near Iowa Highway 141. Flooding also was reported in the Bronson, Correctionville, Danbury, Lawton and Oto areas, as more than a dozen roads in the county were closed due to wet conditions.
Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a disaster proclamation late Thursday for Woodbury and 20 other counties experiencing flooding, including Harrison, Ida, Monona, Montgomery, O'Brien and Sioux.
The Woodbury Central School District in Moville initially had a late start of two hours Thursday, then switched to a full cancellation, said Jeff Crick, of Moville, who serves as transportation director for the school district.
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Fisher and Crick said it was the worst flooding they've seen since living in Moville in the 1970s. They both pointed to a 1993 high water event, following a barrage of rain that impacted Siouxland and well across into eastern Iowa.
"This one is taking up more area," the mayor said.
Plus, that one 26 years ago didn't come in the late winter, Crick noted. The recent weather pattern had a month of substantial snows that ran to March 9, as well as five weeks without the temperature reaching 32 degrees to get any melting.
"That was summer rain. But this, with frozen ground or ice, there is nowhere for the water to go, to sink in. I just can't believe what it looks like...It looks like a fright," Crick said.
Crick also looked down towards the 4-Way store, saying, "That semi (trailer truck) is halfway under water."
Lucy Morgan has lived just off Highway 140 in Moville since 1962, and said she was doing better than Hager, due to being slightly higher up a hill.
Morgan knew the melting period that started midweek, plus rain on Wednesday and Thursday, would make for potentially hazardous conditions. She woke up at 2 a.m., then 3 a.m., peering out to see if water had risen problematically, but couldn't tell in the dark.
On waking, Morgan said, "This morning, my phone was ringing off the hook. Couldn't get my dog to go out, and I could see the water was going up."
Heger briefly walked into Morgan's house, checking in on her, in spite of his flooding problems being much worse.
"He's going to lose everything," Morgan said after Heger exited. "He's lost his car. He's got one (other) car OK, because he moved it into my garage."
Fisher said the city experienced problems Thursday in part because the north-most wastewater lift station, designed to move water from lower to higher elevations, particularly where the elevation of the source is not sufficient for gravity, was itself flooded.
Therefore considerable land in Moville, which is flat from downtown to the city's north edge, was underwater along Highway 140. That meant several feet of water on a ballpark complex with three fields to the east of the highway. Further up the highway, officials closed off part of Highway 140, and other sections of county roads in the vicinity of Pierson and Kingsley.
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