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.'
An estimated 9.2 square miles, or 1,300 blocks, were flooded in Cedar Rapids, fire department spokesman Dave Koch said. Early estimates put property damage at $736 million, Koch said.
While the Cedar River ebbed in hard-hit Cedar Rapids, a levee breach in the state capital of Des Moines flooded a neighborhood of more than 200 homes, a high school and about three dozen businesses.
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 some buildings to the expected flooding.
'We've pretty much just abandoned any effort to try and protect the Arts Campus because we are just overwhelmed by the amount of water,' university spokesman Steve Parrott said. 'It's just too unsafe.' Valuable paintings have been removed from the art museum, he added.
At least three deaths in Iowa have been attributed to the storms and subsequent flooding, and 12 more have died in two recent tornadoes. The storms have prompted the governor to issue disaster proclamations for 83 of the state's 99 counties.
President Bush was briefed on the flooding in Iowa and other parts of the Midwest while he was in Paris, and was assured that federal agencies are making plans to help people affected by the high water, 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,' Perino said.
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.
'The levee broke in two places,' said Keithsburg Alderman George Askew, 76. 'We're getting under water.'
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.