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Flooding Eases in Parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin, But Some Communities Still Struggle

Midwest Flooding

Sept. 24: Floodwaters partially submerge vehicles in a used car lot in Owatonna, Minn.AP

With 240 guests expected, Luke Fischer and Rachel Smith weren't about to let the widespread flooding in southern Minnesota get in the way of their wedding Saturday.

The 24-year-olds, who live in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park, went back to her hometown of Waseca to get married at the Church of the Sacred Heart. Their reception was about 10 miles away at the Owatonna Country Club, in a city where 70 homes had to be evacuated.

"We're pretty happy we don't have to take a duck boat to the reception," a relieved Fischer joked a few hours before the nuptials.

With the Owatonna area drying out, officials at the state's Emergency Operations Center said the focus Saturday included Zumbro Falls and Hammond in southeastern Minnesota, and St. Clair and Madelia in south-central Minnesota. Across the border, concern shifted to the rising Wisconsin River in central Wisconsin.

A slow march of thunderstorms across southern Minnesota through central Wisconsin from Wednesday through Friday dumped several inches of rain across the region. Storm totals between 5 and 7 inches were common, with 10.86 inches at Amboy in south-central Minnesota. The governors of both states declared states of emergency.

In Owatonna, a town of about 24,000 about 65 miles south of Minneapolis, Maple Creek, Turtle Creek and the Straight River were receding Saturday. Emergency Operations Manager Mike Johnson said he didn't expect levels to rise, despite some rain in the forecast.

In Wabasha County, Zumbro Falls and Hammond continued to report heavy flooding Saturday. Residents were evacuated from both cities Friday, and the Zumbro River was continuing to rise Saturday, officials said.

The Post-Bulletin of Rochester reported that Zumbro Falls, where 180 people were forced to leave their homes, remained deserted Saturday.

The newspaper also reported on a dramatic rescue of horses in Zumbro Falls. Wading through floodwaters up to their chests, Lamar Johnson and his nephew, Matt Johnson, were able to free four horses that were tied up and surrounded by water. Matt Johnson tried to lead the horses through strong currents, but the horses pulled away and were swept downstream. Fortunately, the horses managed to swim to shore, where Lamar Johnson's wife caught hold of them.

In Blue Earth County, St. Clair asked residents to avoid using water, including their toilets and drains, because high water on the Le Sueur River was causing the sanitary sewer system to fail. State authorities were responding to the city's request for 50,000 additional sandbags Saturday. In Watonwan County, crews in Madelia sandbagged around four homes to protect them from the rising Watonwan River.

In central Wisconsin, Columbia County Emergency Management asked people living in Blackhawk Park near Portage and in any low-lying areas near the Wisconsin River to relocate. Deputy Director Kathy Johnson said no evacuations have been ordered. She said they're "just strongly encouraging" people in low-lying areas along the river to leave.

Johnson said the main concern was that if the river rises too high, the road leading into Blackhawk Park would be cut off. The gates on the Wisconsin Dells Dam were wide open to release the heavy flow.

The Stevens Point (Wis.) Journal reported that most of Stevens Point escaped flooding, but close to 30 roads in the area, including some major thoroughfares, remained closed due to waters that weren't expected to recede until Sunday. Officials in Wisconsin Rapids urged people to avoid the downtown area to keep it free for emergency crews.

But the town of Arcadia, Wis., was starting to clean up after the Trempealeau River and its tributaries forced the evacuations of more than 340 homes Thursday and Friday. Most residents had been allowed back into their homes by Saturday and the main highways in the area were open again, the Trempealeau County sheriff's office said.

"The water has receded, but it's not the end of having to deal with the flood," Dan Schreiner, the county's emergency management director, told the Winona (Minn.) Daily News. He added that the damage assessment would begin Saturday.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation reported that several highways and county roads in southeastern Minnesota that had to be closed earlier in the week reopened Saturday, but several fresh closures were announced in the Mankato area of south-central Minnesota on Saturday as the Minnesota River swelled.

Despite multiple highway closures, Fischer said it sounded like all their wedding guests would make it to the church in Waseca on time. He said they relied heavily on MnDOT's website to help their well-wishers navigate the roadblocks and detours.

The parking lot at one of the hotels where their guests stayed had been inundated by the high water, but he said the "very accommodating" staff pumped it dry in time.

The Minnesota National Guard said it had 134 soldiers on flood duty across the southern part of the state on Saturday. Fischer, who's the city administrator for the community of Watertown, west of Minneapolis, confirmed they were out in force.

"You can see the National Guard and emergency response teams running around and taking care of things," he said. "As we have this big event today, we recognize all the hard work they're putting into keeping things moving and we appreciate that."

Online:

Minnesota Climatology Working Group storm summary:

http://bit.ly/bYInN3

Storm summary from National Weather Service in La Crosse, Wis.:

http://bit.ly/aN6izb

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