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Associated Press, Published September 23 2010

Updated: Flooding forces Wisconsin city to evacuate downtown

ARCADIA, Wis. — A powerful storm drenched parts of the upper Midwest on Thursday, flooding creeks and rivers and forcing more than half the residents of one Wisconsin town to evacuate their homes for higher ground.

Gov. Jim Doyle declared a state of emergency and ordered the National Guard to Trempealeau County. Heavy rains there sparked mandatory evacuations for as many as 1,500 residents of Arcadia, a town of around 2,400 people 100 miles southeast of Minneapolis.

Police officers in Arcadia began going door-to-door in the rain early Thursday to urge residents to flee rising floodwater, City Clerk Angela Berg said. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Downtown Arcadia, which sits along the swollen Trempealeau River, has been swamped with up to 3 feet of water and two highways into town have been closed, authorities said. Berg said Myers Valley Creek and Turton Creek overflowed.

Wisconsin activated its Emergency Operations Center and sent a representative to the area, and the National Guard sent three trucks to Arcadia to help with evacuation efforts.

Lynn Law, 39, said she woke up to find water up to the roof of a car across the street from her home. Emergency workers had to use a construction truck with a large scoop to evacuate Law, her two teenage children and the family dog.

She said her daughter, a 14-year-old high school freshman, was worried about missing her first homecoming dance this weekend.

"There's nothing you can do about it," Law said.

The water was so high that Jeremy Farnam, 32, a supervisor at Ashley Furniture's production plant, had to resort to a bicycle to try to get to work. He didn't get far, with the water level as high as the wheels of his bike.

Rachel and Chuck Amundson took in a group of friends who were flooded out of their downtown homes. They sat in the Amundsons' garage, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes.

"At times like this, you just thank God you've got friends and family," said Rachel Amundson, 29.

Eva Anderson, who heads the city's parks and recreation department, said she was worried about her 82-year-old mother, whose house was in the middle of the flooding.

"I'd like to get her out of there because she'd be a little bit scared. I just think she'll be startled when she gets up and sees water around her house," Anderson said.

Residents were being evacuated to the Holy Family Catholic Church. Classes were canceled Thursday.

About 85 miles west in Owatonna, Minn., flooding along Maple Creek forced the evacuation of fewer than 10 home, Steele County emergency management director Mike Johnson said. More than 6 inches of rain had fallen in the area by Thursday morning.

Pastor John Lestock of Trinity Lutheran Church said water has been pouring into his own basement, seeping through the floor and coming in through windows. More than 3 inches of water covered the floor of his church, he said.

"It's just too much water coming down too quick and there's no where for it to go," Lestock said. "We are on a hill, but there are standing puddles in our yard, which we've never had before."

The flooding southeast of the Twin Cities had gotten so bad on Thursday afternoon that the Minnesota Department of Transportation was laboring to find passable detours around submerged parts of Highway 52, a key link to Rochester, department spokeswoman Jessica Wiens said.

And with another band of rain moving into the area Thursday evening, Wiens said the problem wasn't getting any easier. "It's getting bigger and bigger," she said.

Heavy rain pounded the southern part of the state overnight, dropping up to 9 inches in some places, forcing some school closures and threatening to overwhelm some water treatment plants.

Wiens said both directions of Highway 52 were closed at Pine Island in the southeastern part of the state, and the northbound road was expected to remain closed for several days.

The flood also disrupted roads in the area's smaller towns. In Truman, for example, officials said half the roads were impassable.

Rain was expected to fall throughout the region on Thursday. Johnson said there were reports of heavy flooding in several nearby cities, including Medford, Blooming Prairie and Ellendale. Sandbagging crews were deployed throughout the region.

In nearby Mapleton, which 8 inches of rain had fallen by morning, sewage systems had backed-up in several homes, Blue Earth County officials said.

In Fairmont, Public Works Director Troy Nemmers said city officials were asking residents to restrict their water usage to take pressure off the wastewater treatment plant. But he said there was no threat, yet, to the city's drinking water system.

The southeast Minnesota chapter of the American Red Cross was preparing to call in volunteers and open shelters as the rains kept falling Thursday morning.

"We are anticipating that we are going to be busy," said Melanie Tschida, the chapter's executive director. "It's pretty likely that in some of this communities we are going to see some flooding."


Associated Press writers Gretchen Ehlke in Milwaukee and Chris Williams in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.