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A flood flows to the heart

Empathy and economics connect people near and far to the Midwest floods.

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Americans don't have to know someone in the river valleys of the Midwest to feel the ripple effect of this flood. People viewing images from afar may feel as linked to water-weary folks there as the volunteers working sandbag brigades. Empathy – and economics – bring this disaster near.

Scenes of inundated Cedar Rapids in Iowa recall New Orleans in 2005 – a national unifier if ever there was one. Fortunately, the human toll is far less – about seven deaths – compared with more than 1,600 who perished from hurricane Katrina.

But the destruction and displacement run as wide as the Mississippi is long. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated and millions of acres of cropland have been damaged. Some experts judge this to be the kind of flood that occurs only once every 500 years – and it's not over yet as Missouri and Illinois deal with the deluge that's swept south from Iowa.

A tragedy of such scope usually swamps affected areas with volunteers, donations, and prayers. But the American Red Cross says its disaster relief fund is empty, drained by lesser disasters that haven't had the visibility to prompt giving. It's borrowing money in order to provide shelter and food in places affected by the flood.

Initial response to Cedar Rapids, though, shows generosity is flowing. In a city that last week had 1,300 blocks surrounded by foul water, the local Salvation Army says it needs a team of volunteers just to coordinate all the offers of help from near and far.

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