WINONA, Minn. – Severe storms deluged parts of the upper Midwest during the night with as much as a foot of rain, causing flooding that washed away bridges and roads and killed at least four people, authorities said Sunday.
Part of Winona and smaller towns in the area of southeastern Minnesota and southwestern Wisconsin were evacuated, officials reported.
Rushing floods in Minnesota killed two people in their vehicle near Stockton and two others in vehicles near Witoka, said Bob Reinert, the Winona County administrator and spokesman for the county's emergency operations center.
"They apparently just drove off the edge of the pavement, and with the floodwaters just were unable to get out of the vehicle," he said, adding floodwaters opened up a 30-foot gully where the road used to be.
Houston County authorities were investigating reports of two additional fatalities, one near Houston and one near La Crescent.
National Guard Capt. Paul Rickert said 88 soldiers have been sent to Winona to help with security around the small cities of Elba, Stockton, and Pickwick, with two Blackhawk helicopters to help with search and rescue efforts.
Across the Mississippi in Wisconsin, up to 12 inches of rain triggered a mudslide that pushed a house onto state Highway 35 in Vernon County, said Wisconsin Emergency Management spokeswoman Lori Getter. No injuries were reported.
"They've been pulling people out of stalled cars, and evacuating them out of their homes," Getter said, adding that the Wisconsin National Guard had been put on standby.
Nearly 80 people living near small dams in Vernon County were evacuated, Getter said. The Pine Valley West Nursing Home in the Richland Center area of Wisconsin was evacuated, its 18 patients taken to another nursing home, and six patients were moved out of another nursing home in the region, she said.
Numerous roads and bridges were washed out or closed in both states Sunday and several towns were evacuated, officials said.
"In our situation we've evacuated the city of Stockton, which is probably the hardest hit," Reinert said in Minnesota. Other small cities were also evacuated as well as low-lying portions of Winona, he said.
Residents of downtown Gays Mills, Wis., were taken to a fire station, and a state of emergency was in effect there.
Five cars of a 65-car train derailed outside Goose Island, Wis., and the surrounding area was evacuated, Getter said. One car that tipped over contained acid, but hazardous materials teams did not detect any leaks, she said.
The rain fell from a storm system that stalled over the region, said National Weather Service meteorologist Tod Rieck in La Crosse.
"When the showers and thunderstorms set up, they sat there for hour after hour after hour," he said.
He said Wisconsin's Kickapoo River was already at a record crest on Sunday morning, and the Root River in Minnesota was at or near a record.
Houston County Sheriff's dispatcher Dwayne Beckman said authorities were keeping a wary eye on the dike that protects that small city from the rising Root River. According to Beckman, the river was at 19 feet "and the dike is good to 20 feet."
Houston residents were not being evacuated yet "but they are all on alert," Beckman said.
Rivers were still rising and more rain was in the forecast at midday Sunday.
Storms from the same system also stretched across parts of Iowa, northern Illinois and southern Michigan into Ohio. Parts of northern Iowa had minor flooding, with no reports of injuries or deaths, officials said Sunday morning.