By Associated Press - Friday, August 28, 2015

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - More than half a foot of rain fell in parts of Sioux Falls, leading to flash flooding that inundated basements, stranded dozens of motorists and cut electricity to thousands of homes.

Mayor Mike Huether said infrastructure improvements in recent years kept the rainfall from being even more disruptive, “but more work needs to be done,” he said.

“You’re going to have challenges when get 2 or 3 inches of rain an hour over several hours,” said Huether, “but we’ve had worse challenges and we’ll get through this like we do with every other challenge that faces this city.”

No injuries were immediately reported in the late Thursday storm, but several people had to be rescued from submerged vehicles. Several structures were damaged by water or lightning. More than 4,000 Xcel Energy customers lost electricity. Power had been restored to all but a few dozen by early Friday, KSFY-TV reported.

The weather service forecast 2-4 inches of rain, which was an accurate average of what fell over the area, meteorologist Todd Heitkamp told The Associated Press. There is no way to forecast the extreme heavy rainfall that fell in some areas, such as 2.75 inches measured in one gauge in less than half an hour, he said.

“You don’t forecast extreme events because you don’t have records to base that on,” Heitkamp said. “These types of rain events don’t occur very often. The last time we saw something close to this (in Sioux Falls) would have been in 2004.”

Such weather systems are known as “train echoes,” because a series of storms moves over the same area, similar to a train of boxcars, according to Heitkamp.

“It’s just one of those systems that socked in and just kept reformulating over the city, in a very, very concentrated area,” Emergency Manager Regan Smith told the AP.

Danny Sullivan and his family were among the motorists who got stuck in the heavy rain and high water. Their vehicle became submerged and they had to climb out the sunroof.

“I’ve lived here my whole life and I’ve never seen anything like that,” he told the Argus Leader.

The Trinity Baptist Church was among the buildings that were damaged. A window broke and flooded the basement with about 6 inches of water. Some of the flooring in the basement gave in and more water seeped in, Pastor Dave Decker said.

“Water starts coming in the basement wall, then a piece of plaster breaks,” he told the Argus Leader. “Then we heard a big crash and the window breaks. Then the water starts coming in like a waterfall.”

At least three houses caught fire when struck by lightning. Maddie Todd was on the third floor of her home when lightning struck.

“It was the brightest light I ever saw … all of sudden I just hear this extremely loud noise and smelled smoke almost immediately,” she told KSFY.

City police advised no travel during the flooding. The Red Cross deployed volunteers and opened a shelter for people who were displaced.

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