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Storms Blamed for 10 Deaths

June 28, 1998

Mobile homes became houseboats in West Virginia, drifting in floodwaters on Sunday, and persistent heavy rains added to high-water woes in several states hammered by thunderstorms blamed for 10 deaths.

Roads carrying muddy runoff from fierce downpours that started Friday were impassable in upstate New York, and Vermont’s deluged Mad River Valley was littered with uprooted trees tangled with other debris when waters receded.

About 30 families were forced from a mobile home park in rural West Virginia, where rising waters caused several homes to come off their moorings, said D.R. Smith, Wood County emergency services director.

``We were actually moving people out of their floating homes,″ Smith said. ``There were some frightened people.″

No one was killed or injured in West Virginia, but other states weren’t as fortunate as lightning strikes, raging waterways and fallen power lines took lives. A Bridgewater, N.H., man died after being sucked into a narrow culvert that he was trying to clear of debris.

Bridgewater Police Chief Bill White said racing water made the 18-inch-wide hole ``just like a vacuum.″

In Wisconsin, a cluster of thunderstorms storms Saturday fueled by winds up to 90 mph tore roofs off homes and toppled trees, causing widespread damage. Heavy rain flooded basements and low-lying roads.

``We’ve got one giant tree lying on our house,″ said Dave George, 47, of Arcadia, Wis., after a 50-foot-plus maple tree crushed his two-story home.

A state of emergency remained in effect Sunday because of wind, rain and lightning storms.

``It’s amazing we have any trees left to blow down,″ said Todd Rieck, a National Weather Service meteorologist in La Crosse, Wis. ``Some places just got devastating damage.″

In Christiana, Wis., a farmer and his cattle had to be rescued by firefighters after his barn collapsed, the sheriff’s department said. The farmer was hospitalized in stable condition.

As many as 30 roads were closed Sunday in northeastern New York, where runoff from as much as 8 inches of rain was still flowing down mountainous terrain.

``We’re discovering more damage by the hour,″ said Ray Thatcher, emergency management director for New York’s Essex County.

The ferry from Port Kent, N.Y., to Burlington, Vt., was shut down after a sinkhole closed a major road leading to it.

Tens of thousands of homes in various states lost power due to flooding, falling trees and mudslides.

Susan Marcum of Clendenin, W.Va., said water washed out her driveway and was coming off the hill in her backyard into her bedroom. ``The road in front of our house is nothing but a creek,″ she said.

The severe weather prompted West Virginia Gov. Cecil Underwood to declare a state of emergency in 17 counties.

Ohio Gov. George Voinovich declared 16 counties disaster areas after heavy rains hit the eastern part of the state for the second straight day.

Westbound lanes of Interstate 70 in Ohio were shut down for an 8-mile stretch between New Concord and Cambridge. Three people in Ohio were killed in the weekend flooding.

Lightning strikes killed a Baltimore girl, a camper in upstate New York and a Minnesota farmer holding a pitchfork. Two others swept away by raging rivers died in New York.

In southeastern Minnesota, two people were missing and presumed drowned after their vehicle was swept into the storm-swollen Zumbro River early Saturday after a night of heavy rains.

Cleanup work was under way across the affected areas. Work crews tried to clear roads of mud and debris, while homeowners pumped out swamped basements and tore up waterlogged carpets.

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