Flood forces VGM to cancel most of Heartland

Sunday, June 15, 2008

WATERLOO, Iowa - In a flood of historic proportions last week, the Cedar River overflowed its banks, pouring muddy water into the streets and forcing The VGM Group to cancel about two-thirds of its annual Heartland Conference.

The event, which attracted more than 500 attendees, began Monday night with a hog roast at VGM's headquarters just outside of downtown Waterloo. Tuesday morning all seemed fine as HME providers, speakers, exhibitors and VGM staff began filing into the Waterloo Convention Center. By early afternoon, the Cedar River had crested its banks and began to flood downtown streets.

As of Wednesday morning, the Convention Center and downtown hotels were being evacuated and most of Heartland's sessions had been canceled. All attendees, speakers, vendors and guests who were staying in downtown hotels were safely transferred to the main VGM campus.

"We fed them, re-booked hotels and airlines when possible," said Carolyn Cole, VGM's vice president of corporate communications. "What can you say? You absolutely cannot control nature, and in the Midwest things like this happen sometimes. Wow!"

Days of heavy rain this spring across the state have sent nine rivers across Iowa at or above historic flood levels.

"We are seeing a historic hydrological event taking place with unprecedented river levels occurring," Brian Pierce, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Davenport, Iowa, told the Associated Press. "We're in uncharted territory--this is an event beyond what anybody could even imagine."

As of Thursday, Gov. Chet Culver had declared 83 of the state's 99 counties as state disaster areas.

No deaths or serious injuries were reported in Iowa due to the floods, but one man was killed in southern Minnesota after his car plunged from a washed-out road into floodwaters, according to news reports.