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Dikes Protect Montana Town, Storms Batter Midwest

September 29, 1986

Undated (AP) _ A small Montana town protected by 50-year-old dikes was surrounded by rising water today, while flooding caused millions of dollars of damage in Illinois and severe storms and tornadoes destroyed buildings in Iowa and Wisconsin.

Lightning ignited a house fire today that killed a 16-year-old girl in Michigan.

Saco, Mont., was surrounded by water from a swollen tributary of the rampaging Milk River. Mayor Gregg Menge said he would call for additional volunteers to help reinforce the town’s aging levees and sandbag dikes.

″There’s no great threat or anything″ at this point, the mayor said. ″We don’t plan any evacuations at this time.″

Beaver Creek was rising at a rate of 4-6 inches per hour today on the east side of Saco, said Chuck McComb, a state Disaster Emergency Services official at the scene. Highways into town remained open.

″We’re not doing too bad. It’s getting to be the same old stuff - water, water, water,″ Menge said.

The Milk River and its tributaries along a 100-mile-long section of northern Montana began flooding Thursday after up to 8 inches of rain fell in 18 hours in some areas.

The flooding killed one person, killed hundreds of livestock, washed out roads and rail lines, and forced the evacuation of more than 300 people in Malta, Harlem and Chinook, all upstream from Saco, a town of 250 residents.

Northeastern Illinois also was hard-hit by flooding today, especially along the Des Plaines River, and officials distributed sandbags to residents.

The state Emergency Services and Disaster Agency estimated damage in Lake County, on the north side of Chicago, at over $10 million, following about 10 inches of rain that has fallen in the past week. Gov. James R. Thompson declared the county a state disaster area.

The Lake County District of the American Red Cross estimated it had aided more than 240 families by late Sunday. Red Cross spokesman Michael Hochfelder said his agency had classified 123 flooded homes as unliveable without major structural repairs, 118 as suffering major damage and 308 as having only minor damage.

A tornado ripped through Wisconsin’s Jefferson County on Sunday, destroying several houses and farm buildings and injuring a woman when a fireplace was thrown onto her, authorities said.

″The house just blew up,″ said Arthur Hougton, whose wife, Vinetta, was in fair condition with a broken leg. ″It’s almost a total loss. There’s only one wall standing, and that’s leaning.″

″We had some real bad damage out there,″ said Roger Reinel, the county Emergency Government Director.

In lower Michigan’s Tuscola County, authorities said 16-year-old Tammy Marshall died early today in a fire that began when lightning stuck an electric service box near her second-floor bedroom in a foster care home.

Three other children and five adults tied bed sheets together to escape from the second floor, authorities said.

The Michigan storm also knocked out power to 32,000 utility customers in the Detroit area. More than 20,000 Detroit Edison Co. customers were blacked out today, but power was restored to all but about 3,500 of the 12,000 Consumers Power Co. customers affected, utility officials said.

Severe thunderstorms also dumped as much as 4 inches of rain on parts of northeastern and southwestern Oklahoma. Police in Alta, in the southwest, said high winds smashed the glass fronts of several downtown businesses.

Wind gusting to 60 mph knocked down trees and power lines in northeastern Kansas and damaged the roofs of a skating rink and two grocery stores in eastern Nebraska on Sunday.

Tornadoes touched down across Iowa on Sunday night, accompanied by heavy rains, golf ball-size hail and strong winds.

Several farm buildings were damaged, and 1.7 inches of rain forced organizers of the 34th annual Farm Progress Show in Alleman to delay the start of the exhibition from Tuesday to Wednesday and to shorten its duration from three to two days.

Tom Budd, the farm show’s director, said it would take two days to clear the exhibit area.

A severe storm or a tornado leveled a two-story home about 40 miles north of Waterloo in eastern Iowa, while a tornado destroyed farm buildings just south of Baxter in central Iowa. In northwest Iowa, a garage moved about 50 feet and a silo was damaged on a farm between Everly and Spencer.

The storms in Wisconsin cut off power for about 7,500 customers, utility officials said. Wind gusts of up to 58 mph were clocked in southeastern Wisconsin.

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