Midwest Faces Flooding, Deaths After Rains

Soldiers have been deployed to help evacuate people in a flooded Wisconsin county, while parts of Indiana are federal disaster areas following a weekend of torrential rain. Iowa was also hit by the storms, blamed for a handful of deaths in the region.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

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And I'm Melissa Block.

Flooding continues in parts of the Midwest today. That's after weekend thunderstorms battered communities in Indiana, Wisconsin and other states. Several counties have been declared federal or state disaster areas. More than a thousand people have been evacuated from their homes, and sandbagging efforts will continue into the night.

NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY: For some areas in the Midwest, it is simply water, water everywhere.

Ms. LORI GETTER (Emergency Management Worker): We've just been deluged with water for the southern half of the state.

CORLEY: Lori Getter is an emergency management worker for the state of Wisconsin.

Ms. GETTER: We have at least 30 counties under a state of emergency right now. Evacuations continue to take place. Many communities are surrounded by water, and roads are closed. It is just a mess out there.

(Soundbite of flood water)

CORLEY: Flood waters have washed away at least three houses in Wisconsin, and hundreds of residents like Carol Ann Sheldon(ph), who lives near a dam near Viroqua, Wisconsin, have had to evacuate their homes.

Ms. CAROL ANN SHELDON (Evacuee): It's kind of freaky with all the water close up to you, but it's going down pretty good now.

CORLEY: Sheldon says her family had to suffer through floods last year as well, when torrents of water carried entire houses out toward highways. She says this year is different.

Ms. SHELDON: Because we didn't have this much out here. It was in our yard, but not much going down the other side underneath the bridge in there.

CORLEY: By this morning in Indiana, flooding at eight sites had reached record levels, eclipsing flood levels of 1913. The state was hit with 11 inches of rain and President Bush yesterday declared 29 of Indiana's counties disaster areas, and military crews have joined desperate sandbagging efforts in the state.

Steve Stripy(ph) owns a body shop in Elnora, Indiana, where officials have urged residents to evacuate by late this evening in fear that Indiana's White River may top over the levy there.

Mr. STEVE STRIPY (Shop Owner): About every year - a couple of times a year, we'll have a problem with this levy, having to sandbag it, but this here is the worst I've ever seen. But you know, this is the worst rains I've ever seen north, and all that has to come here. I mean that's where it goes, from north to south, and we're on the south end of it; we're going to get the worst part of it even though we didn't get the storm here.

CORLEY: There have been at least 10 deaths blamed on the stormy weekend weather - most of them in the Midwest, one in Indiana, and at least five people were killed in Michigan, including the driver of a car who died after a tree fell on the vehicle, and two people delivering newspapers for the Grand Rapids Press; they drowned when the car they were driving on collapsed beneath their car, plunging them into a flooded ravine.

Ms. LYNN POSTMA(ph) (Waitress): You couldn't see out the window. It was raining so hard.

CORLEY: Lynn Postma is a head waitress at Caloco(ph) Kitchen in Douglas, Michigan, about five miles from where the accident occurred.

Ms. POSTMA: And it was just thunder and lightning so hard, raining in sheets. And I went to bed and it got so loud that I couldn't go to sleep, so I got back up for a while. But it was scary. We had real heavy rain coming down real hard for probably five or six hours, and I've never seen anything like that before.

CORLEY: Other areas were just as hard hit. In Iowa, the governor says nearly a third of the state's 99 counties need federal help. In Mason City, the water treatment plant was swamped, so thousands of residents there have no drinking water.

Patrick Slattery is with the National Weather Service. He says even though there hasn't been much rain today, the soggy Midwest is not out of trouble yet.

Mr. PATRICK SLATTERY (Public Affairs Officer): We're not by any means, and what we have is a situation where the ground is so saturated it cannot absorb any more moisture, so any rain fall at all just adds to the flooding problems.

CORLEY: So Slattery says it remains a dangerous situation, and he says people should stay out of floodwaters because even in familiar areas where there was once a road there may be none.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

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