Severe weather kills 5; water rises in Indiana

June 8, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Wicked weekend storms pounded the country from the Midwest to the East Coast, forcing hundreds of people to flee flooded communities, spawning tornadoes that tore up houses and killing at least five people. Rescuers in boats continued to pluck people from rising waters in Indiana on Sunday, a day after more than 10 inches of rain deluged much of the state. In Iowa, pumps and thousands of sandbags were sent to the Iowa City area, where officials fear a reservoir could top a spillway and flood the city of about 63,000 by Tuesday. The Indiana flooding killed at least one person, a man who drowned in his vehicle about 50 miles south of Indianapolis, said John Erickson, a spokesman for the state Department of Homeland Security. Another person was reported missing after falling off a boat about 30 miles southwest of Indianapolis. In Michigan, two delivery workers for The Grand Rapids Press drowned early Sunday when their car became submerged in a creek that washed out a road near Lake Michigan in Saugatuck Township, the newspaper said. A woman was killed when a small trailer blew onto her about late Sunday afternoon west of Lansing, Sheriff Mike Raines told the Lansing State Journal. And lightning struck a pavilion at a state park in Connecticut, killing one person and injuring four, state environmental spokesman Dennis Schain said. At least one tornado hit the Omaha, Neb., area with little to no warning as people slept Sunday morning, damaging several dozen homes and businesses. No major injuries were reported. "I'd say it was a miracle no one got killed," said Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey as he toured a heavily damaged neighborhood in the west Omaha area of Millard. Paul Higgins, 87, said the front door blew open and he was knocked down when he checked on the storm around 2:30 a.m. "At the time you couldn't see anything" outside, Higgins said. "It was like a fog. So much stuff blowing around." Higgins said he and his wife sought shelter in their basement, emerging to find a tree against a house across the street and a neighboring house missing its roof. Iowa saw some of its worst flooding in more than a decade, Gov. Chet Culver said in a statement as he declared an emergency in nearly a third of the state's 99 counties, freeing up state resources. A levee broke along the Winnebago River in Mason City, and its water treatment plant was shut down. Residents of the city of nearly 30,000 have been asked to avoid water use. Officials said water levels on the Iowa River at Iowa City could be like those during the historic floods of 1993, which put most of the state underwater. The University of Iowa plans to move several classes starting Tuesday. In areas of Minnesota near the Iowa border, officials asked residents in the Winnebago Valley to evacuate. More than 60 people were being taken to a shelter in Caledonia from a campground. In Wisconsin, more than a dozen homes near the swollen Kickapoo River in La Farge were evacuated. In Morgan County, southwest of Indianapolis, about 150 residents were taken out of a flooded nursing home. Floodwaters that were moving south to eventually drain into the Ohio River led officials to move more than 250 patients and employees from Columbus Regional Hospital in southern Indiana. Workers pumped water out of the basement, and a couple inches of mud covered the first floor of the center, which was forced to close. Jack Elkins, 67, said his condominium near the hospital was inundated with water in a matter of minutes Saturday night. Once the storm drains filled up, it took 15 minutes for about 8 inches of water to ruin his place. "It looked like a river in front of my house," he said as he took a break from ripping up carpeting and flooring. Hundreds of thousands of customers lacked power across the region. Gov. Mitch Daniels said many of the flood victims told him how quickly floodwaters rose, catching them off guard. "This thing came on fast with such a radical deluge of water that people were describing going from a feeling of security to waist-deep water in a matter or 15 or 20 minutes," he said Sunday. The rising White River also forced officials in the southern city of Seymour to order the evacuation of more than 100 homes. Daniels said that there had been some looting reported in the city but that extra police had been sent to prevent it from happening again. In western Indiana, Terre Haute also was dealing with serious flooding. A Johnson County dam was breached by the high water but had not failed, Erickson said. "It's in bad shape," Erickson said. Residents of Chicago's northern and southern suburbs spent Sunday cleaning up from tornadoes the night before. The storms tore roofs off homes, toppled power lines and overturned tractor-trailers. Several minor injuries were reported.

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