HAMBURG, Iowa (CN) – Fresh off a town hall appearance on CNN, presidential hopeful Jay Inslee toured an Iowa town that has been devastated by recent flooding, talked with a local resident whose home was submerged and challenged the Trump administration to acknowledge the risk that climate change poses to the lives of Americans.
“When you see a town that has been here since 1858 totally destroyed, it’s an eye-opener and makes you realize what we’re up against. This is a precursor of floods to come if we don’t defeat climate change,” Inslee said in an address to reporters in Hamburg, Iowa. A look of awe in his deep-set eyes, Inslee described the scene as disturbing, sad and maddening.
On the same morning as Vice President Mike Pence was set to meet with farmers in nearby Pacific Junction, Inslee challenged Pence to “open your eyes” to the devastation caused by climate change.
Since declaring his candidacy on March 1, the former congressman and current Democratic governor of Washington state has positioned himself in a crowded field as the champion of fighting climate change. On Friday, he said defeating climate change would be job number one should he receive the nomination and be elected president in 2020.
“I’ve come here to help spread the message to the nation. We need to protect the Hamburgs of our country. The current administration doesn’t acknowledge climate change. That’s unacceptable. To leave these people unprotected is unacceptable.”
Much of Hamburg, including its downtown, remains abandoned and uninhabitable, with a large section underwater as the Missouri River Valley enters the rainy season. The first thunderstorm of spring raged across the region on Wednesday night.
Meanwhile, a temporary flood wall remains in place here, bisecting downtown. Sand and dust stirred constantly in wind gusts with a strong smell of rot in the air. The street was littered with debris, household items, including two pianos from a church, making much of the Main Street impassable.
John Davis led Inslee and a group of reporters on a tour of Hamburg, which is one of many towns in Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri still paralyzed after historic flooding covered large swaths of the states in freezing water and massive ice chunks last month.
“We need to stop putting profit before people,” Davis told Courthouse News before the tour began. He later added he considers himself a “climate refugee” and warned “we are killing ourselves off.”
A fourth-generation Hamburg resident, Davis is well-versed in the now decades-old debate that has stalled action by the federal government. He worked for decades as a climate analyst for the U.S. Department of Defense and served a role in the Clinton administration as a special assistant to Vice President Al Gore. Davis has since continued his research as part of Gore’s Climate Reality Project and gives lectures across the world. He said he was knighted by the King of Spain in recognition of his efforts to bring attention to the risks posed by climate change.
Davis relayed predictions from the local government that there are 160 homes still uninhabitable in Hamburg, a town of about 1,000 people. Hamburg could lose up to half its residents, because the cost of rebuilding is much higher than simply relocating elsewhere.
He is staying in the home of his 90-year-old mother at the moment, a situation he called “basically camping,” as there is no heat or potable water, and he had to run electrical cords from a neighbor’s in order to run a heater. Davis plans to move to Council Bluffs soon because he has nothing left at home.
“I will pack up and keep fighting the climate fight,” Davis vowed.
On the tour, reporters were led through the gutted Stoner Drug store, the soggy edge of the water, the local school and an insurance agency. In addition to City Hall, the insurance agent is one of only two offices currently open in Hamburg. Thanks to its location on high ground away from the river, Marnie Simons Elementary School remained dry. Its gymnasium doubles as a relief center packed with donated food and clothes, and the school, only closed for two days, is going about its business as much as possible given the circumstances.
In fact, there were only two structures that weren’t destroyed on the river side of a temporary flood wall built by the state of Iowa: the Risky Business auto shop and the adjacent home of owner and mechanic, Ron Perry.
“The south end is gone. It’s done. We’re all that’s left,” Perry told Inslee.
Perry kept a sense of humor about his situation, laughing boisterously when he pointed out that the owner of a roadster convertible in the garage hadn’t yet picked up his treasured classic car “because he had to wait for a day when it wasn’t raining.”
For his part, Inslee told Perry he was glad the water didn’t flood the auto shop and that he would do all he could to stop disasters like this from getting increasingly worse.