DES MOINES, Iowa – The severe flooding soaking the midwest and southern plains this week moved onto Iowa Wednesday, after leaving large swaths of Ohio underwater Tuesday and a trail of deadly destruction in its path.
The death toll from two storm systems — one in the Upper Midwest and the remnants of Tropical Storm Erin in Texas and Oklahoma — reached 22 on Tuesday when searchers found the body of a man tangled in a tree near Lewiston, Minn. Officials in Iowa are still determining if a death in that state can be attributed to the storm.
In Iowa, widespread flooding continued early Wednesday as thunderstorms dumped more heavy rain across northern Iowa, which was already flooded from earlier storms.
Strong winds destroyed buildings, cut off power and left roads and homes underwater.
Record flooding was predicted near Findlay in northwest Ohio, where the Blanchard River was close to 7 feet above flood stage Wednesday morning and likely to rise another half-foot or more, the weather service said.
In Wisconsin and Minnesota, thousands of homes were damaged. A preliminary survey by the American Red Cross in Minnesota identified about 4,200 affected homes, including 256 complete losses, 338 with major damage and 475 that are still inaccessible, said Kris Eide, the state's director of homeland security and emergency management.
Death Toll May Rise in Iowa
Officials said Tuesday they found a man's body in a flooded basement near Postville in northeast Iowa, though they have not confirmed whether the weather prompted his death.
In Humboldt, a care center was evacuated overnight. The Humboldt County sheriff's office had no additional information and referred calls to the city's police chief, who was not available early Wednesday.
Several basements in town were flooded and some roads were closed.
Also in Humboldt County, strong winds damaged outbuildings and grain bins and knocked over some trees near Bradgate.
In Fort Dodge, police were advising people along the Des Moines River north of town to evacuate. Officials said the river rose 4-5 feet. A police dispatcher said there was not a mandatory evacuation, but officials were advising residents to seek higher ground.
U.S. Highway 169 north of Fort Dodge was closed because of water over the road.
A flash flood watch remained in effect for much of the northern half of Iowa until Thursday.
Northern Iowa received another six inches of rain by late Tuesday night, said Gary Forster, a forecaster with the National Weather Service.
Winds up to 80 mph hit the town of Plover in northern Iowa on Tuesday night, destroying barns, bins and other property, Forster said. No injuries have been reported.
Forster said his agency was investigating whether it was a tornado.
More than half of Cherokee in northwest Iowa was without electricity for part of Tuesday night after wires from a water tower fell on power lines. In other parts of town, water was seeping into homes through windows, prompting city crews to offer pumps to the most affected areas.
Similar scenes have occurred across the region since Sunday, when heavy rains first began falling. Between 6 and 10 inches of rain have fallen in some areas, and much of the state remained under a flash flood watch until Wednesday afternoon.
President Bush said Tuesday that Minnesota would get some help. It was not immediately clear Tuesday whether Iowa would seek federal aid.
Ohio Under Water
Flooding also remained a problem Wednesday in parts of northern Ohio, keeping streets closed, schools shut down and residents waiting things out in shelters.
While the forecast called for only scattered showers, several rivers were still rising and not expected to crest before Wednesday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service.
The flood in Findlay was already the worst in more than 25 years, said Gary Valentine, director of the Hancock County Emergency Management Agency.
"The city itself is actually divided into quarters almost, because of being able to get around because of the river, so we're really hurting right now," he said.
About 100 people had already been rescued from their water-filled homes, most of them going to emergency shelters, and another 100 were waiting for help, Valentine said Wednesday morning. Seven rescue boats were navigating water that was waist-deep or higher, and authorities were awaiting four more.
In the village of Carey, waist-deep water swirled through the tiny downtown Tuesday, submerging cars to their rooftops. Dozens of flooded streets made it impossible to cross the town.
"There's nowhere to send the traffic," Police Capt. Daniel Walter said.
The Carey Nursing & Rehabilitation Center was evacuated, said Wyandot County Lt. Neil Riedlinger. An aide answering the phone at the home said 28 residents were being transferred to Wyandot Memorial Hospital.
The sheriff's office urged motorists to stay out of the area because of extensive flooding, and, throughout the county, authorities were busy rescuing motorists whose vehicles had become submerged and residents who had water coming into their homes.
Wyandot County Sheriff Mike Hetzel said as the flood water recedes it will fill up flood basins, causing further problems.
Near Bluffton in northwest Ohio, both directions of I-75, one of the nation's main north-south thoroughfares, were closed for about 11 hours Tuesday, said Scott Varner, the Ohio Department of Transportation.
Inspectors reopened the 7-mile stretch of the highway after removing debris and looking for road and bridge damage, he said.
Throughout the north-central region, corn and soybean crops — which were in danger of dying out to drought conditions a few weeks ago — faced the new risk of damage due to flooding.
The Upper Sandusky school district in north-central Ohio canceled the first day of school Tuesday after more than 9 inches of rain surged over river banks, and the schools were closed again Wednesday. Several other districts in the region also canceled classes Wednesday.
To the east in Bucyrus, nearly nine inches of rain fell, and firefighters used a boat to rescue families from flooded homes. The Crawford County Emergency Management Agency estimated that about 80 people were evacuated and up to 200 more are expected to leave the area as the flood water approaches the overflowing river in town, Tim Flock, director of the agency, said Tuesday.
Flooding shut down the post office and stopped mail delivery Tuesday in Mansfield, about 60 miles north of Columbus, spokesman David Van Allen told the Mansfield News Journal. About 30 postal vehicles were under water but no mail was lost or destroyed, he said.
The Barberton Corps of The Salvation Army was sending emergency disaster vehicles and personnel to deliver food and bottled water to residents of the city in suburban Akron. The group planned to provide clean up supplies on Wednesday.
Minnesota Mops Up
Across the border in southeastern Minnesota, weekend flooding killed at least seven people, damaged and destroyed thousands of homes and caused an untold amount of damage.
In southwest Wisconsin, thunderstorms swelled rivers and almost instantly turned low-lying areas into swamps. Emergency workers frantically evacuated hundreds of people in Sunday's wee hours as waters rose.
"It's heart-wrenching, man," said Deb Holtz, 48, of Gays Mills, Wis., who found the furniture shop she runs with her husband coated with mud. "Makes me want to cry."