Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Floodwaters Affecting Some Midwest Newspapers

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Floodwaters Affecting Some Midwest Newspapers

Article excerpt

But most are spared from the record-breaking spillover of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and their tributaries

WITH MALEVOLENT CAPRICE, the record-breaking floodwaters of the Midwest targeted just a few newspapers for their wrath while largely sparing most papers located along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and their tributaries.

The Des Moines (Iowa) Register, in particular, was devastated by flooding that left its downtown facility without power, sanitation or safe drinking water.

At midweek, however, even newspapers that had been spared remained wary of the raging rivers and the leaden skies - both of which have demonstrated the ability to hurt quickly and nearly unexpectedly.

"This thing is like watching a three-act tragedy enacted in slow motion." said William D. Delost, publisher of the Daily Gate City of Keokuk, Iowa. DeLost said his paper has been one of the lucky ones.

Located on a bluff 150 feet above the Mississippi, the Daily Gate City is in no physical danger from the flooding.

Roads to Keokuk - located in a corner bordered by Missouri and Illinois - remain open for supplies, although the paper took the precaution of stocking up on extra newsprint rolls at the beginning of the deluge.

Still, the bridges to Illinois and Missouri are all closed now.

Employees who live on the Missouri side of the river have been getting to work by taking a trolley across a dam.

"They are taking 1,000 papers a day to Hamilton [Mo.]. People are literally carrying the papers across," Delost said.

And the newspaper lost an entire town of subscribers when Alexandria, Ill., was evacuated. Papers are being distributed free of charge to residents at emergency shelters, Delost said.

"We are selling a few more papers every day. So in that sense we're doing pretty well," said the publisher of the 6,300-circulation daily.

Iowa's biggest daily, however, was hurt badly.

The Register managed to publish an eight-page, one-section paper July 12 by shifting a news and editing staff to its Indianola Recorder-Herald weekly newspaper and by flying the pages to the Iowa City Press-Citizen, which is also a Gannett newspaper.

Distribution of the newspaper - a regional paper that circulates across the state and into much of Illinois and Nebraska - was limited to the immediate Des Moines area.

In a telephone interview from the downtown newspaper building, Register president and publisher Charles C. Edwards Jr. described the hectic scene the morning of July 12: "We have no power or I should say only intermittent power. We have no water today, no sanitation.

"There are [portable] generators sticking out of every window, and we are trying to hook up a big generator under the building to get power to the front-end, circulation, advertising, business and production [computer] systems."

Ironically, the Register had been spared any flood problems during the six weeks of torrential rains that brought more and more devastation through the Midwest.

Located halfway across Iowa from the Mississippi, Des Moines seemed to have few worries. Its own major stream, the Des Moines River, was thought to be well under control because of a dam and a huge flood reservoir.

Sudden rains, however, swelled the Raccoon River, which merges with the Des Moines just south of downtown.

The Raccoon washed over the levee and sandbag dikes protecting the Des Moines Water Works, shutting the city's safe drinking water supply. The river also flooded out the city's electrical substation.

Throughout the day July 12, the city attempted to restart the power - attempts that complicated the Register's own efforts to get its systems up and running, Edwards said. …

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