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Rains Produce Wisconsin Flooding

August 7, 1998

MILWAUKEE (AP) _ Bloated by days of rain, urban creeks and sewers unleashed their fury during afternoon rush hour, gushing coffee-colored water into basements and driving hundreds of people from their homes.

Floodwaters were receding across southern Wisconsin this morning as little rain fell after midnight. But scattered wet weather was forecast for later today and tonight.

A third consecutive rainy day set the stage for misery Thursday, when rainfall totals of 5 and 6 inches were commonplace.

With nowhere else to go, water spilled out of urban creeks and overloaded sewers, closing streets and freeways as workday commuters were heading home. In Sheboygan, rescuers pulled a dentist to safety moments before his house slid into a ravine.

In hard-hit suburban Elm Grove, rescue crews were to resume searching later today for two boys, 12 and 14, reported to have been swept away late Thursday as they played in a drainage ditch.

Also Thursday, a washout at a suburban railroad crossing stalled an Amtrak train carrying about 350 passengers from Chicago to St. Paul, Minn., and the West Coast. Passengers were given alternate transportation, Amtrak spokesman John Stonik said.

The train was able to leave about 6:30 a.m. today after the water that had covered the tracks receded, Wauwatosa police Lt. Jeff Sutter said.

The Menomonee River was receding today after climbing Thursday to 17.8 feet at Milwaukee, nearly double its flood stage.

``It has been coming into the basement. We have two sump pumps running, and we know the hardest part is going to be starting with the cleanup,″ said Betty Rooney of Milwaukee.

Rooney said her back yard was under 22 inches of water, flowing over a slope like a ``small Niagara Falls.″

About 300 people were evacuated from homes in Milwaukee, Wauwatosa and Brown Deer. Some went to Red Cross shelters, others to relatives’ homes. Many of them returned home this morning after rain stopped overnight and the water receded, authorities said.

Some compared the latest flooding to what was supposed to have been a once-in-a-lifetime flood on June 21, 1997.

``A year and a month ago we had the same conversation,″ resident Ron Peter said, resigning himself to water in his basement. ``It’s only 4 inches but I’m sure more’s to come.″

Parts of Michigan also coped with flooded roads from Thursday’s downpour. In suburban Detroit, the rain snarled rush-hour traffic and closed a stretch of one freeway.

In Wisconsin, Edward Marchewka of the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department said he was not aware of any serious problems during this morning’s commute.

But on Thursday, traffic on Interstate 94 was halted near suburban Brookfield, which recorded 8 1/2 inches of rain within a few hours.

Gov. Tommy Thompson was scheduled to fly today over Sheboygan, a Lake Michigan city of 50,000 where about a foot of rain fell Thursday. The floodwaters tore chunks of asphalt from city streets and forced apartment-house evacuations.

Police and private security officers were patrolling in the area of abandoned dwellings to prevent against looting, said David Kirk, Sheboygan’s deputy police chief.

At one point, as many as 3,000 customers were without electricity in the Milwaukee metro area. But only 600 customers remained without power early today, said Rick White, another Wisconsin Electric spokesman.

Water closed Timmerman Airport and swamped roads. The city’s main airport, Mitchell International, remained open.

Water on some streets was 6 feet deep with divers and firefighters checking submerged vehicles for occupants, the National Weather Service said.

At one place on the freeway, ``the boats were going over the cars,″ Marchewka said.

Menomonee was rising by the foot early Thursday afternoon, he said. ``It was absolutely noticeable, and that’s when all hell broke loose.″

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