U.S. Weather

Storms Pelt Midwest, Cause Flooding in Indiana

AVON, Ind. -- Residents in several communities in central Indiana were urged to evacuate Tuesday after overnight thunderstorms dumped up to 5 inches of rain, causing widespread flash flooding that stranded motorists and closed roads.

The storms were part of a wave moving across the Midwest as a low pressure system slowly moved east. The storms that went through Indiana weakened as they reached Ohio and Pennsylvania Tuesday, while another belt moved into Iowa, Illinois and Indiana, according to the National Weather Service.

In southern Wisconsin, authorities conducted door-to-door searches after a warning siren failed before a tornado touched down in Eagle, damaging at least 100 homes, destroying 25 and injuring one person. The National Weather Service confirmed two tornadoes in Wisconsin, with the one in Eagle possibly having winds of up to nearly 160 mph.

Eagle Fire Chief Justin Heim said all residents were accounted for, although some, including his family, had to be pulled from the rubble. He said it wasn't clear why the siren failed but finding out would be a high priority.

In Edna Mills, about 10 miles east of Lafayette, Ind., 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 who wanted to leave.

Heather St. Myer, her husband, Tom, and their seven children were among those who fled.
"We have been through it before, though we never had to be evacuated," St. Myer told the Journal & Courier of Lafayette. "The kids didn't want to leave."

Further south, water from a retention lake overflowed an earthen dam in Avon west of Indianapolis after two days of strong thunderstorms, said Jerry Bessler, a spokesman for the Washington Township/Avon Fire Department.

Crews evacuated 32 homes, mostly downhill and downstream from the Indian Head Lake dam, along with 16 trailers in a nearby mobile home park. Residents of all but five homes directly downstream from the dam were allowed to return Tuesday afternoon but were warned to be prepared to leave again if more storms hit later in the day, he said.

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

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

Crews were pumping the lake to try to lower water levels Tuesday. It had been four years since the dam was last inspected, said John Burke, president of the neighborhood homeowners' association.

Indianapolis firefighters were called 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.

Witnesses in central Illinois reported tornadoes near the Indiana border, while flash floods covered roads in Pana, Fulton and Vermilion County. Tornadoes were spotted near Hoopeston and Rossville, and the American Red Cross said 26 families were forced out of their apartments after strong winds blew the roofs off several buildings in Beardstown.

Several other Indiana communities reported damage and street flooding from the storms, which carried winds of up to 60 mph. Trees were reported down in Lafayette and Crawfordsville. Numerous state highways and county roads were closed because of high water Tuesday morning in the Lafayette area. A mudslide blocked a rural road in Tippecanoe County.

Lightning may have sparked a fire that destroyed a shopping plaza in the northern Indianapolis suburb of Carmel early Tuesday, firefighters said. The fire gutted about 10 stores in the plaza, including a Blockbuster video store, a restaurant, a wine store and a tanning shop.

National Weather Service hydrologist Al Shipe said some areas received 3 or more inches of rain overnight, with the heaviest rainfall at 5 inches in Kokomo and 4 1/2 in Brownsburg. The weather service issued flash flood warnings for much of the central third of the state, and officials said flooding could become worse with more storms expected Tuesday afternoon.

The Indianapolis Department of Public Works was offering sandbags to residents.