- The Washington Times - Monday, August 20, 2007

WINONA, Minn. (AP) — Severe storms deluged parts of the upper Midwest with as much as a foot of overnight rain, causing flooding that washed away bridges and roads and killed at least four persons, authorities said yesterday.

Part of Winona and smaller towns in southeastern Minnesota and southwestern Wisconsin were evacuated, officials reported.

Rushing floods in Minnesota killed two persons in their vehicle near Stockton and two others in vehicles near Witoka, said Bob Reinert, the Winona County administrator and spokesman for the county’s emergency operations center.

“They apparently just drove off the edge of the pavement, and with the floodwaters just were unable to get out of the vehicle,” he said, adding floodwaters opened up a 30-foot gully where the road used to be.

Houston County authorities were investigating reports of two additional fatalities, one near Houston and one near La Crescent, and Winona County authorities were looking for three persons reported missing.

National Guard Capt. Paul Rickert said 88 soldiers and two helicopters were sent to Winona to help with security around the small cities of Elba, Stockton, and Pickwick. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty visited the area yesterday and declared a state of emergency in six counties.

Across the Mississippi in Wisconsin, up to 12 inches of rain triggered a mudslide that pushed a house onto state Highway 35 in Vernon County, said Wisconsin Emergency Management spokeswoman Lori Getter. No injuries were reported.

“They’ve been pulling people out of stalled cars, and evacuating them out of their homes,” she said, adding that the Wisconsin National Guard was placed on standby and nearly 80 people living near small dams in Vernon County were evacuated.

The Pine Valley West apartment complex in Wisconsin’s Richland County was evacuated as a precaution, with 10 of them taken to Pine Valley Health and Rehabilitation, a nursing home, said Donna Gilson, a spokeswoman at emergency management’s Madison headquarters. Emergency management officials initially said 18 nursing home residents were evacuated; Miss Gilson said confusion resulted from the similarity of names.

Numerous roads and bridges were washed out or closed in both states yesterday and several towns were evacuated, officials said.

“In our situation, we’ve evacuated the city of Stockton, which is probably the hardest hit,” Mr. Reinert said in Minnesota. Other small cities were also evacuated as well as low-lying portions of Winona, he said.

The rain fell from a storm system that stalled over the region, said National Weather Service meteorologist Tod Rieck in La Crosse.

“When the showers and thunderstorms set up, they sat there for hour after hour after hour,” he said.

Storms from the same system also stretched across parts of Iowa, northern Illinois and southern Michigan into Ohio. Parts of northern Iowa had minor flooding, with no reports of injuries or deaths, officials said yesterday morning.