Storm pounds upper Midwest, causing flooding that forces evacuation of Wis. city’s downtown

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Flooding forces Wis. city to evacuate downtown

ARCADIA, Wis. — Heavy rains soaked parts of the upper Midwest Thursday, forcing evacuations in one flood-ravaged Wisconsin town where 20,000 sandbags were dispatched to rivers and creeks that had overflowed.

Governors in Minnesota and Wisconsin issued emergency declarations for large segments of their states amid the daylong downpour, which made many roads impassable.

The National Guard, police and firefighters rousted many residents in Arcadia, Wis., a town of about 2,400 people 100 miles southeast of Minneapolis, urging them to leave their homes for higher ground. Nearby tributaries were rising rapidly and they needed to get out, the officers told them.

Mayor John Kimmel said the evacuations weren’t mandatory but were “highly recommended” in the downtown area where as many as 1,500 people live.

The National Weather Service said showers would continue overnight across the region, albeit not as heavy.

Emergency workers had to use a construction truck with a large scoop to evacuate Lynn Law, her two teenage children and the family dog.

Law said her daughter, a 14-year-old high school freshman, was worried about missing her first homecoming dance this weekend.

“There’s nothing you can do about it,” Law said.

Dan Schreiner, Trempealeau County emergency management director, said about 30 to 40 people took refuge in a Red Cross shelter. Kimmel said he wasn’t sure how many people left their homes or even how many were contacted.

Another Red Cross shelter was established in southwest Minnesota. The chapter’s executive director, Joyce Jacobs, said utilities were shutting off the gas and electricity in some homes with water in the basement.

Jacobs said water damaged homes and saturated farm fields and ditches. Half the roads in the small town of Truman were completely covered by water.

“One of the first things we saw was a car, and the water was up to the doors,” she said. “It came up so quick, people didn’t have time to move their cars.”

The water was so high — up to 3 feet in parts of Arcadia — that Jeremy Farnam, 32, a supervisor at Ashley Furniture’s production plant, had to resort to a bicycle to try to get to work. He didn’t get far, finding his wheels were completely under water.

Justin Scow, 28, who also works for the company, said he heard the flood warnings when he went to bed Wednesday night but didn’t think anything of them. He awakened around 3 a.m. to the screech of sirens.

He and his wife, Jess, told the couple’s two sons that it was just like Noah’s Ark. The family fled the downtown in the dark, watching water rush over a dike and pour past them as they drove out.

“It’s a double-whammy,” Jess Scow, 26, said of the possibility of losing both her home and her in-home day care business. “If life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. With a shot of vodka.”

About 85 miles west in Owatonna, Minn., flooding along Maple Creek forced the evacuation of fewer than 10 home, Steele County emergency management director Mike Johnson said.

Pastor John Lestock of Trinity Lutheran Church said water has been pouring into his own basement, seeping through the floor and coming in through windows. More than 3 inches of water covered the floor of his church, he said.

“It’s just too much water coming down too quick and there’s no where for it to go,” Lestock said. “We are on a hill, but there are standing puddles in our yard, which we’ve never had before.”

The flooding southeast of the Twin Cities had gotten so bad on Thursday afternoon that the Minnesota Department of Transportation was laboring to find passable detours around submerged parts of Highway 52, a key link to Rochester, department spokeswoman Jessica Wiens said.

And with another band of rain moving into the area Thursday evening, Wiens said the problem wasn’t getting any easier.

“It’s getting bigger and bigger,” she said.

Associated Press writers Gretchen Ehlke in Milwaukee and Chris Williams in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

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