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Historic flooding batters Midwest

Thousands impacted, volunteers begin response efforts, more storms predicted

BY VICKI DESORMIER | June 10, 2008

Nearly half a dozen people have died after rain in the Midwest caused flooding that turned streets into rivers and rivers into wild torrents that burst through dams and thundered over banks, destroying buildings and forcing the evacuation of hundreds of homes in the region.

Twenty one counties in Indiana, 43 counties in Iowa and 30 counties in Wisconsin were declared disaster areas by the governors in those states. In Michigan, hundreds of thousands of people remained without power because of the storms, including two possible tornadoes, that snapped power poles across the state.

A federal disaster proclamation has been issued in Indiana as well.

Severe weather predicted for Tuesday may stretch east into Pennsylvania.

Even as the water continues to rise, disaster response organizations have begun providing assistance, assessing needs and planning response. Responders from regional United Methodist conferences, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, the United Church of Christ, CRWRC, Disciples of Christ and Mennonite Disaster Service were amongst those responding Monday.

The five confirmed deaths came in Indiana and Michigan. A man in Elkhart County (IN) was crushed when the roof of a barn blew off and fell on him. A man in Spring Lake, MI, died when a tree fell on his car. In Delta Township, MI, a woman was killed when a trailer blew over on top of her. And in Fennville, MI, two delivery workers for the Grand Rapids Press drowned after their car became submerged in a creek that washed out a road.

Five other storm-related deaths were reported across the Midwest.

In Iowa, the flooding reached record levels or near record levels that were reached in 1993 when the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers overflowed their banks from April until October causing tens of billions of dollars in damage.

Gov. Chet Culver said it was difficult to compare the two flood events because "many steps have been taken to ease the effects of flooding." Culver said the state emergency management agency is fully operational and that the National Guard has been called out to assist with flood control and emergency assistance.

Jeff Johnson of the National Weather Service said rain and flooding are expected to continue throughout the week in Iowa. He said at least two inches of rain is predicted for each of the next few days.

He said there will be significant flooding in Des Moines when excess water from the spillway of the Saylorville Dam is released into the Des Moines River to ease pressure on the dam and avoid damage to the structure.

In Wisconsin, five houses in Delton were washed away as an earthen dam around a man-made lake gave way and pulled the houses from their foundations and sent them down the Wisconsin River.

Across the Midwest, dams are being pushed to their limits, officials said. The National Guard has been deployed to help with sandbagging efforts all across the region in an effort to hold back the torrents.

"We are sending out representatives of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to take a look at all the dams in the state," said Carla Vigue, a spokesman for the governor's office.

A 250 mile stretch of the Mississippi River from Fulton, IL, to Clarksville, MO, will be closed later this week by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers because of the flooding. The closure, which could last up to two weeks, will bring a stop to barge traffic on the river, according to Ron Fournier, a spokesman for the corps.

A new storm system is moving northward from Oklahoma and could cause additional flooding in some of the hardest hit spots in Indiana again.

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