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Record rainfall kills 1; leaves region swamped

August 21, 2018
Flooded Madison intersection
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Heavy rains flood the intersection of Old Sauk and North High Point roads in Madison on Monday evening.

An epic rainfall in Wisconsin swept one man to his death, washed out bridges, swamped homes and businesses, left roads impassable and marooned dozens of shoppers overnight at a Middleton discount store Monday.

The National Weather Service said 15.33 inches of rain fell in a 24-hour period in Cross Plains, the heaviest rainfall for a 24-hour period ever recorded in Wisconsin. The previous 24-hour mark was 11.72 inches of rain near Mellen in June of 1946.

The deluge flooded much of Mazomanie and Cross Plains, washed out a highway bridge in Black Earth as well as a nearby railroad bridge.

One man was killed when his car stalled in high water about 9 p.m. Monday near Chapel Hill Road and Regis Road on Madison’s West Side.

Two of the vechicle’s occupants were pulled to safety, but the third, a man in his 70s, was swept away, Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain said. His body was found Tuesday morning.

“He had gotten out of the car, but the current was very powerful,” DeSpain said. “Despite heroic efforts, they were unable to keep him from being sucked under the car.”

The Dane County 911 Center confirmed a bridge just west of Black Earth over Black Earth Creek had washed out, west of the intersection of Highways 14 and 78.

Iowa County officials blocked off Highway 14 at Arena, and the highway is blocked off in Middleton starting at the Beltline, so the main route out of Madison to the west toward the Wisconsin River will not be available.

The State Patrol closed Highway 14 at Highway 60 near Spring Green in Sauk County, with traffic being detoured onto Highway 60 to go to Highway 12.

No detour route has been set up yet for Highway 14 from Middleton to the west, but the 911 Center said it could take days before the highway reopens.

“In 28 years of working at the 911 Center, I’ve never seen anything like it,” a dispatcher said.

Highway M in the town of Westport also is closed between Fox Bluff Road and Signature Drive, because of a road washout.

In Madison, many intersections and streets were still covered by floodwaters, and abandoned vehicles are blocking some streets.

Streets considered impassable in Madison include Odana Road from Gammon Road to Grand Canyon Drive; Mineral Point Road between Gammon Road and Grand Canyon Drive; and McKenna Boulevard near Elver Park.

Flooded intersections include Regent and Kenosha; Deming Way and Greenway Crossing; Quarter Deck and Inner Drive; Old Sauk Road and Waterbend; Marty Road and Raymond Road; and Commerce and Plaza.

Between 40 and 90 shoppers and employees at Costco, 2150 Deming Way, had to spend the night at the store after high water left the building an island surrounded by a lake of swamped cars, according to a manager who declined to be identified.

Sven Krause, owner of the Midwest Microcar Museum, at 103 Crescent St. in Mazomanie, and nearby Vintage Cycle Room, said he hasn’t been out to see the damage to the museums and his nearby Vintage Cycle Room yet.

But based on images he’s seen, he suspects they’ve been hit by up to 3 feet of floodwater.

The microcar museum opened in 2015 in a historic, brick building to display Krause’s father’s unique microcars – oddly shaped and tiny automobiles that were popular in post-World War II Europe.

He said about 20 cars and 15 motorcycles that are housed on the ground floors of the museums could be damaged.

The heavy rain tipped over fuel tanks at Morey Airport in Middleton. One of the tanks contained 1,000 gallons of jet fuel; the other held 500 gallons of gasoline.

Officials said the gas tank was leaking, but the gasoline was being collected in a containment berm.

County Executive Joe Parisi declared a state of emergency Tuesday morning, and the county declared slow, no-wake orders on Lakes Mendota, Monona and Waubesa, effective immediately.

Up to 6,000 customers of Madison Gas and Electric were without power at some point Monday night, but as of 7 a.m. Tuesday, only 1,000 customers still had no electricity.

Alliant Energy reported very few customers were without power.

Reverse 911 was used to help evacuate a significant portion of Mazomanie Tuesday morning, with those living east of Bridge Street and north of Hudson evacuated to the Mazomanie Village Hall/Fire Station.

Black Earth Creek continues to rise and has already surpassed its previous record high level. The latest reading of water level on Black Earth Creek, taken overnight, showed the stream at 8.45 feet, a foot and a half higher than flood stage.

A number of roads were closed as of Tuesday morning due to flooding:

*Highway 14 bridge in Black Earth

*Highway 14 from the Beltline west to Black Earth

*Highway KP Cross Plains to Mazomanie

*Highway F (Highway 19 to Highway 14)

*Beltline ramps at Greenway Boulevard

*Beltline ramps at Highway 14

*Highway 69 Riverside to Highway PB

*Highway 78 Highway A to Green County

*Highway 78 Highway 14 to Highway 19

*Highway H Highway A to Highway 78

*Highway Z Highway 78 to County Highway E

*Highway J Old Military Road to County Highway S

*Highway G at Highway J

Other roads still with high water include Highway 19 from Highway 12 to Highway 78, and Highway F from Highway FF to Pleasant Valley Road.

And there are a number of additional street closures on the west side of Madison.

Those with damage are being asked to call 2-1-1.

Middleton Police Chief Charles Foulke said people should stay away from the flooded areas of the city, mainly west of the Beltline and Parmenter Street.

“Do not travel in this area this morning,” Foulke said. “You will be hindering ongoing rescue operations.

“If a road is barricaded, do not drive through.”

Prior to the man being swept away, the Madison Fire Department had earlier Monday night said all water rescues had been successful, but told drivers to “turn around, don’t drown!”

“Madison fire was going from one spot to another to another,” said J. McLellan, spokesman for Dane County Emergency Management, about the calls for vehicles stuck in water, adding that it was the same for Dane County Sheriff’s deputies.

Katie Crawley, spokeswoman for Mayor Paul Soglin, said some of the intersections affected include McKenna Boulevard near Elver Park, Mineral Point Road in the Gammon Road area, Mineral Point Road at Junction Road, Odana Road in the Grand Canyon Drive area, and Pleasant View Road around Valley View Road.

Tow trucks were out but inundated with calls. Some vehicles were being towed to the West Towne Mall parking lot.

Some streets were open but still showed signs of flooding. Debris was visible on the under side of vehicles parked along Midvale Boulevard.

On University Avenue, Jeff Jensen was cleaning out the bays of his garage, Car Care Clinic, which took on about 6 inches of water Monday night.

Jensen said his parking lot regularly floods when the storm sewers can’t keep up with heavy rains and passing vehicles slosh through.

“The waves are what do all the damage,” he said. “It’s been up to the door but not his bad,” he said as he hosed debris from his parking lot.”

The Spirit Mart gas station at 2801 University Avenue was still without power at 8:35 a.m., during what manager Rama Sapkota said is normally one of the busiest times for the store, which had about 2 inches of water on the floors.

“So many people ask me what is going on?” Sapkota said. “No power.”

The National Weather Service said in news releases Tuesday morning that many areas had received 5 to 8 inches of rain and the area west of Madison from Middleton to Cross Plains to Black Earth “was simply pounded by heavy rainfall,” with reports of 11 to 13 inches falling.

“Although the rain has let up, there is still the chance for some showers through the morning” on Tuesday, the Weather Service said.

The flood warning for western Dane County was extended until 6 a.m. Wednesday, while a flash flood watch for others areas in south-central Wisconsin — including the counties of Columbia, Dane, Green, Iowa, Lafayette, Rock, and Sauk — expired at 4 a.m. Tuesday.

The good news is that sunny skies and dry weather are forecast for Wednesday and Thursday.

The Weather Service had initially issued a flash flood warning until 8:30 p.m., but the warning was extended until 11:15 p.m. due to consistent rain into the night, Weather Service meteorologist Denny VanCleve said late Monday night.

The warning later was extended to 6 a.m.

Madison officially recorded 3.78 inches of rain on Monday, a new record for Aug. 20, at the Dane County Regional Airport on the North Side, with more falling after midnight.

By late Monday evening, authorities continued to urge drivers to not go on roadways unless absolutely necessary.

“Portions of U.S. and state highways, as well as many major county roads and secondary roads, are impassable due to downed trees and high waters,” said Dane County Sheriff’s Sgt. Trevor Greiber.

Cross Plains Police Chief Dale Lochner said in a news release that “all roadways in and around this area are closed,” and that the morning commute would be impacted.

There were widespread power outages and many damaged homes and businesses, Lochner said.

“A full damage assessment will begin at daylight,” he said. “Report damage by calling 211.”

Thousands of Madison Gas and Electric customers, largely situated along the Gammon Road corridor and in the Cross Plains area, lost power Monday.

A lightning strike was the likely cause of a fire that caused more than $500,000 in damage, but no injuries, to a home at 8080 W. Hill Point Road in the town of Berry, authorities reported. The home was a total loss.

Jeff Richgels of Madison.com and Logan Wroge, Bill Novak and Barry Adams of the State Journal contributed to this report.

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