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Thunderstorms Pound Nation’s Midsection, Spawn Flooding

September 30, 1986

Undated (AP) _ Severe thunderstorms pummeled the nation’s midsection, causing millions of dollars in damage and spawning floods that forced the evacuation of hundreds of people and left one man feared drowned.

″The entire village of Gurnee is gone,″ said Lake County sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Townsend said of the Illinois community. ″The police are patrolling in boats. The situation is very, very bad.″

Flood warnings were issued for south-central and southeastern Kansas, where up to 10 inches of rain fell, and flash flood watches were posted for parts of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois and Lower Michigan. Rivers also ran high in southern Wisconsin, where rainfall totals for the month were as high as 17.35 inches.

Up to 8 inches of rain fell on Oklahoma on Monday as thunderstorms and at least one tornado caused extensive damages, officials said. Hundreds of residents north of Oklahoma City were evacuated because of flooding and flood damage was estimated in the millions in several communities, including Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Altus.

″We’ve got a lot of flood water. We’ve got a little looting, and we’ve got some traffic problems. But otherwise, we’re doing pretty good,″ said Howard Watson, director of the Kingfisher City-County Civil Defense, which oversaw the evacuation of 300 residents.

Thunderstorms dumped rain on Michigan’s waterlogged Lower Peninsula on Monday, as a tornado in Genesee County destroyed three homes and damaged five others, knocked down power lines, and blew trees on cars and houses, authorities said.

Residents of flood-drenched northeastern Illinois hoped for sun today after Monday’s storms ripped roofs from buildings west of Chicago, resulted in flight delays and cancellations at O’Hare International Airport, and continued flooding that has caused an estimated $30 million in damage.

A tiny Montana town was surrounded by water early today, but officials said it was receding.

Heavy rain Monday also caused flooding in Missouri and Kansas while thunderstorms pounded Indiana. Rivers were above flood stage in South Dakota and North Dakota.

Farmers in central Iowa cleaned up in the wake of a tornado, strong winds and hail that destroyed a dozen buildings and caused an estimated $2 million in damage.

A program expected to draw up to 250,000 people, the three-day Farm Progress Show at Alleman, Iowa, was canceled because of heavy rain and will not be rescheduled this year, organizers said today.

In Oklahoma, thunderstorms packing winds up to 60 mph ripped the roofs off a church and an unoccupied office building in Oklahoma City on Monday. Damage was estimated at nearly $1 million.

In Kingfisher, water rose to 18 inches in some areas, and a number of houses were evacuated in Guthrie.

″The bridge near my home was under water. I don’t know if it’s going to get into my house or not but I didn’t want to take any chances,″ said Connie Ross at a temporary shelter.

In Illinois, where forecasters were predicting even more rain, damage from the recent storms was estimated at $30 million.

Lt. Gov. George Ryan, who used a boat to tour the streets of Gurnee, outside Chicago, pronounced the scene ″probably the worst flooding I’ve seen in Illinois.″

Main Street in Gurnee, just west of Waukegan and north of Chicago, was under 2 feet of water Monday, and officials at the Gurnee Elementary School reported 5 feet of water in some classrooms.

A search was under way in the north Chicago suburb of Libertyville for a man in his 20s whose boat capsized in the swollen Des Plaines River.

In North Riverside west of Chicago, sections of the roof of a K mart store and the building of an automobile dealership collapsed during a thunderstorm Monday, damaging 16 cars and sending at least seven people to hospitals with minor injuries, authorities said.

Thirty miles west in Aurora, the entire roof was blown off a two-story condominium apartment building, said Police Sgt. Gerald Soos. No injuries were reported.

Forest Hospital, a private mental-health facility in suburban Des Plaines, evacuated 85 patients and 85 staff members due to the threat of flooding. The patients were bused to other local hospitals. At least 165 families have been displaced by the flooding, said Lake County Sheriff’s Deputy Steve Townsend.

All Des Plaines residents can do, Mayor John Seitz said, ″is pray for the sun.″

Saco, Mont., meanwhile, was surrounded by water from a swollen tributary of the Milk River.

″The water is going down,″ said George DeWolf, head of the state disaster office in Helena. ″It’s beginning to look better.″

But flood-stage waters were expected to reach downstream communities on Wednesday and Thursday.

The Milk River system began flooding Thursday along a 100-mile-long section of northern Montana after up to 8 inches of rain fell in 18 hours in some areas. The flooding killed one person and hundreds of head of livestock, and washed out roads and railroads.

In Missouri, 20 Amtrak passengers took buses after their train from Kansas City to St. Louis became submerged in water on Monday, Amtrak said.

In Iowa, Gov. Terry Branstad on Monday night signed a declaration declaring Jasper County a disaster area because of Sunday night’s storm, which leveled a 100-year-old farm house.

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