DES MOINES, Iowa — Authorities in several Iowa cities were mobilizing resources Friday to handle flooding from a rain-swollen river that has forced evacuations in several communities upstream, while a Wisconsin town was recovering from storms now blamed for two deaths.
More rain fell Thursday night and early Friday in the area, and the National Weather Service said the threat of more rain and flash-flooding remained high along the Cedar River in northeastern Iowa.
Just across the Mississippi River in Wisconsin, residents of Victory, a tiny community at the base of a river bluff, were recovering from torrential rains, flooding and mudslides that caused two deaths.
Vernon County sheriff’s officials said Friday that floodwaters filled 79-year-old Joseph Menne’s pickup truck when the trailer he was pulling got stuck in 6 feet of water. Menne was reported missing about 7 p.m. Thursday, and his body was found about two hours later.
Authorities said another resident, 53-year-old Michael McDonald, died Thursday after his house slid down the side of a bluff and onto state Highway 35.
“In my 33 years in Vernon County law enforcement, this is the worst I’ve ever seen,” Sheriff John Spears said at the site of the Victory cleanup. “This has been devastating.”
Wisconsin emergency officials said preliminary estimates show the flooding over the last few days has caused millions of dollars in damage.
State emergency officials issued a news release Friday evening tallying the damage across a number of western counties. Richland County reported more than 40 homes have been damaged, with one destroyed. Vernon County officials are reporting between $2 million and $3 million in damage to roads and bridges.
Adams, Chippewa and Monroe counties each reported tens of thousands of dollars of damage to public roads and bridges.
In Iowa, Cedar Falls officials have been talking to residents about possibly evacuating low-lying neighborhoods. The dike system protecting downtown was expected to hold, but Public Safety Director Jeff Olson said it will be patrolled. The Cedar River was expected to crest in the area Saturday afternoon, at about 2 feet (0.6 meters) below the record crest of 102.1 feet (31 meters) in June 2008.
Waterloo has closed several storm sewer floodgates, activated lift stations and put up flood control walls at several spots downtown. Several downtown bridges may close, and the fire department has been lining up extra boats for water rescues.
Portable dams, barriers and pumps were being deployed around Cedar Rapids, where the expected Monday river crest was increased from earlier estimates to 25.3 feet (7.7 meters), still below the June 2008 crest of 31 feet (9.45 meters). But even at the lower level, street flooding was expected in several areas, including the downtown core.
“We’re very concerned about the downtown,” said Mike Goldberg, director of Linn County Emergency Management.
Mayor Ron Corbett told the residents to use the next few days to protect their homes and businesses with sandbags or make plans to move to higher ground if necessary.
Another eastern Iowa river, the Shell Rock, also has forced evacuations as it left its banks. Clarksville Police Chief Barry Mackey said that on Thursday night, water overtopped the levee that runs down the east side of the Shell Rock River, just west of the Butler County community of about 1,400 people. Several homes were surrounded by water, including his, Mackey said.
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad signed a disaster proclamation for 13 northeast Iowa counties affected by flooding. It activates the Iowa National Guard to assist in preparedness and in response when there’s damage.
The proclamation also enacts a grant program for homeowners meeting poverty guidelines to apply for up to $5,000 in financial aid to repair damage to a home or car or to replace food or clothing lost in the flood.
In southern Minnesota, sandbagging was underway in St. Clair, where the Le Sueur River continued to rise.
Officials said the floodwaters have already far surpassed the levels they saw in 2010, and the river isn’t expected to crest until Saturday at the earliest.
The floodwaters are threatening sewer lift stations, which officials said will likely cause basement flooding. The town’s more than 800 residents have been encouraged to cover their drains, remove valuables from their basements, and not to flush their toilets or run water.
While more than 7 inches of rain fell on St. Clair from Wednesday night into Thursday, the main problem is that even more fell upstream in the Waseca area, and that water is now making its way downriver.
This story has been corrected to state that 7 inches of rain fell on St. Clair, not St. Cloud.