AUSTIN, Minn. – Emergency workers in boats rescued people from cars and homes left stranded by rising water Wednesday as heavy rain doused southern Minnesota and caused flash flooding.
Schools and roads were closed, a nursing home was evacuated and fields were flooded. A car was swept away by rushing water moments after its driver got out of the vehicle, Mower County Sheriff Terese Amazi said.
"We've got major flooding, it came up quick," Amazi said. Rain began Tuesday and ended by late Wednesday morning.
In Austin, 90 miles south of Minneapolis, the Cedar River (search) overflowed its banks, forcing the city to close some streets and forcing nearby residents to flee. The Spam Museum (search) — a tourist draw in Austin, where Hormel Foods is located — was evacuated.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty (search), who surveyed the damage by helicopter, said he was "somewhat taken aback by the magnitude of it." He said flooding severely damaged crops, schools and homes.
"The worst may not yet be over," he added. The river was expected to crest later Wednesday.
Resident John Williams said he watched and worried as the Cedar River rose. "It's raising a foot-and-a-half to two foot an hour in some spots, so we just don't know what were getting into," he said.
The weather service said Austin received 3.87 inches of rain; Albert Lea, in nearby Freeborn County, got a little over 7 inches over 36 hours. An estimated 10 or more inches fell in some areas.
Boats were used to rescue people stranded around Austin, along with residents of a home near Adams and a truck driver whose rig went into a median along Interstate 90, Amazi said.
"We've got several boats out and the fire departments are out there with hovercraft," Amazi said.
Most roads forced to close by the rain were reopened by Wednesday afternoon, except for a 10-mile section of I-90, which the Minnesota Department of Transportation said was under several feet of water in areas. Mudslides slowed traffic on parts of U.S. 61 but crews were able to clear the road before dawn.
Portions of Wisconsin, Iowa, and Kansas also got rain early Wednesday. A flash flood warning was issued in northern Iowa, where as much as 8 inches of rain had fallen since Tuesday, the National Weather Service (search) said.
In the northern Iowa town of Armstrong, some residents were sandbagging as streets were flooded by rising creeks, sheriff's dispatcher Sue Zitterich said.
"We've got flooding all over the place," she said. "I don't have any particulars but I do know that Armstrong and some of the low-lying areas are sandbagging."