Searchers on Tuesday recovered the body of a man who was wrenched away from would-be rescuers during flash flooding that forced evacuations around Wisconsin’s capital city and cut power to many homes.
More than 11 inches of rain fell overnight in places in or around Madison, according to the National Weather Service. The worst of the weather seemed to have passed by midday Tuesday, with the forecast calling for dry conditions Tuesday night and sunshine on Wednesday and Thursday.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday evening declared a state of emergency in flood-stricken Dane County, saying the state is ready to assist in recovery efforts.
“I have no doubt the resiliency of Wisconsin communities will be on display during this response,” Walker said in a statement.
The governor plans to tour the flood damage on Wednesday.
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan sent a letter Tuesday to President Trump, asking him to provide federal assistance for flood recovery efforts if Walker seeks a federal disaster declaration.
“We’ve obviously had a very dangerous and unprecedented situation,” Mayor Paul Soglin said at a news conference. “We’ve seen snow storms. We’ve seen ice storms. We’ve seen tornadoes. Obviously we’ve never seen a rain like this.”
The man who died was in his 70s, police spokesman Joel DeSpain said in a statement. The man was driving a car with two passengers near a Madison park on Monday when it stalled in flood waters and was swept into a drainage ditch. The car came to rest nose down, and quickly filled with water.
The Capital Times reported that Madison Alderman Matt Phair and his wife were out biking during a lull in the storm and saw the car in the ditch.
Phair told the newspaper they waded up to the car in water that was three or four feet deep, and he pulled out the two passengers, who were described by police as a man in his 70s and a woman in her 50s.
The male passenger made it to solid ground but the woman slipped under. Phair said he and his wife saved her by grabbing her hair.
A third man joined in to help. The driver made it out of the car but the rescuers couldn’t hold on to him in the rushing water and he was sucked under the car.
“The force is overwhelming, and eventually he slipped and went under,” said Phair, who added that he did what anyone would have done.
The police statement didn’t include the names of those involved.
Firefighters found the driver’s body Tuesday morning in a retention pond about a third of a mile away.
The weather service said it suspects that the downpour broke a Wisconsin record for most rainfall in a 24-hour period. The Madison suburb of Middleton has so far recorded 11.6 inches, but rainfall reports were still coming in. The previous record was 11.7 inches near Mellen in northern Wisconsin, set on June 24, 1946.
Black Earth Creek hit record flood stage with evacuations underway in Black Earth, Cross Plains and Mazomanie, according to Dane County Emergency Management. A temporary shelter was set up at Mazomanie Elementary School as well as at schools in Middleton and Cross Plains.
In Middleton on Tuesday morning, about a hundred people were trapped in a Costco and another hundred were trapped in a Fairfield Inn, WKOW-TV reported. Everyone at the two sites was safely evacuated, Dane County spokeswoman Stephanie Miller said Tuesday afternoon.
Dane County Executive Joe Parisi’s chief-of-staff, Josh Wescott, said about 100 people had been evacuated in Mazomanie, and sheriff’s deputies were using an air boat to reach people still trapped in their homes. Authorities knocked on every door in Mazomanie, and every resident who wanted to evacuate has evacuated, and everyone is safe, Miller said.
County officials have discovered a number of damaged bridges and culverts and were beginning to put together a full damage report, Westcott said. Parisi declared a state of emergency in the county on Tuesday morning, the first step toward qualifying for state and federal assistance.
Soglin, the mayor, estimated that the flooding has caused at least $250,000 worth of damage to city infrastructure and tens of millions of dollars of damage to private property. He said he expects those estimates to grow as more damage becomes evident in the coming days.
About 6,000 Madison Gas and Electric customers lost power Monday night as the storms hit west of Madison. Power was restored to the majority of those customers by Tuesday morning, but repairs were delayed because the floods made some roads impassable.
The Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District reported receiving numerous calls Tuesday about sanitary sewers overflowing on the city’s far west side and in the suburb of Fitchburg.