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Ind. residents flee by boat as thunderstorms spew funnel clouds, flash floods across Midwest

AVON, Ind. (AP) — A wave of severe storms crashed through the Midwest Tuesday, forcing residents in central Indiana to flee their homes because of rising floodwaters and frantically ease the pressure on an earthen dam before a new band of storms came rumbling through.

In several states, residents took advantage of a brief break from the severe weather Tuesday afternoon to clean up from tornadoes and flash floods. Twenty-five homes were destroyed and at least a hundred more damaged in Wisconsin, while 26 families in Illinois were homeless after strong winds tore a roof off an apartment complex.

The storms that pelted the region weakened as they moved east, but the National Weather Service said another wave was expected to hit Iowa, Illinois and Indiana on Tuesday night. Enough moisture remained in the air that if storms developed in the heat, they would likely be downpours, said Jason Puma, a weather service meteorologist in Indianapolis.

Residents near Avon west of Indianapolis used an earth mover to poke a hole in an earthen dam in hopes of lowering the water level in Indian Head Lake enough that the dam wouldn't be overwhelmed by more rain and swamp bridges and homes downstream. A huge crater had developed in the side of the dam that morning and muddy brown water lapped the top, prompting the temporary evacuation of 32 homes and 16 homes in a nearby mobile home park.

"We're just letting it drain out slowly," said John Burke, president of the neighborhood homeowners' association. "So that it doesn't overwhelm White Lick Creek. Because if it all was to go that way, it would be a mess."

His wife, Margie Burke, 61, said she woke up a little after 5 a.m., saw a hole in the dam and called her husband, who was at work.

"I was frightened," she said. "There was nothing I could do."

Meanwhile, in southern Wisconsin, officials were trying to figure out why a warning siren in Eagle failed before a tornado hit Monday night. Along with 25 homes that were destroyed, at least 100 were damaged, and one person was injured.

Eagle Fire Chief Justin Heim said all residents were accounted for Tuesday after a door-to-door search. Some, including Heim's own family, had to be pulled from the rubble. He said an investigation into why the siren failed was ongoing.

A nuclear power plant near Brownville, Neb., notified public and federal regulators early Tuesday that it was in a low-level emergency state because of flooding from the nearby Missouri River. There was no threat to workers at the Cooper Nuclear Station or the public, and the plant would be taken offline as a precaution if the river rose 3 more feet, said its owner, the Nebraska Public Power District.

In central Illinois, multiple homes and businesses had damage from strong winds and water from flash floods covered the roads. The weather service had reports of funnel clouds near several towns but had confirmed no tornadoes Tuesday evening.

A shelter was set up at a school in Beardstown, about 45 miles northwest of Springfield, after winds tore the roof off an apartment building about 1:40 a.m. and left 26 families homeless, Mayor Bob Walters said.

"It tore the roof right off of it, threw it across the street about a half block away," Walters said. "It wasn't declared a tornado (but) you'd never know it by looking at the city."

Crews had cleared most major roads by late Tuesday afternoon, but the cleanup could last a month, he said. "Fortunately, we haven't had any reported injuries."

Most of the people in Edna Mills, a village about 10 miles east of Lafayette, Ind., chose not to leave after officials called for a voluntary evacuation as a small creek rushed over its banks, surrounding about three dozen homes and covering roads. School buses and boats were brought in to help residents evacuate, but Clinton County Sheriff's Department spokesman Maj. Mike Hensley said few did.

"They've put up with it for years," he said. "It'll finally go away, I think is what their thoughts are."

Indianapolis firefighters were called early Tuesday for three rescues on the city's west side in an area where Little White Lick Creek and White Lick Creek converge, Fire Capt. Courtney Rice said.

They rescued a disabled man from a trailer parked at a fishing lake after he became trapped by rising water, Rice said. Firefighters used a boat to get him out and then made a second trip to get his wheelchair.

Firefighters also used a boat to rescue three others who became trapped after driving into high water in the area.

Another man got out of his car as flood waters started to sweep it away. He swam to safety as the car continued moving downstream, Rice said.

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Associated Press Writers Tom Davies and Deanna Martin in Indianapolis, Gretchen Ehlke in Milwaukee, Nelson Lampe in Omaha, Neb., and David Mercer in Champaign, Ill., contributed to this report.