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Flooding Kills 13 People In Midwest

Updated:
WINONA, Minn. (AP) _ Rivers swollen by as much as a foot of rain lifted houses off their foundations and washed away roads, killing at least 13 people in three states, authorities said Sunday.

Hundreds of people in southeastern Minnesota and southwestern Wisconsin were evacuated, some by boat off rooftops.

``I cannot describe the terror of it all. I'm just glad to be alive,'' said Sean Wehlage, 29, who climbed onto the roof of his one-story home in Stockton to wait out the storm.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty ordered 240 National Guard soldiers to the area to help with flood-relief and provide security, and the Red Cross set up emergency shelters. Six deaths were reported in Minnesota, and six more in Oklahoma.

``This is the worst disaster that's hit southeast Minnesota in a lifetime,'' state Sen. Sharon Erickson Ropes said.

Floodwaters cut a 30-foot gully through one road near tiny Witoka. Two people died in vehicles that plunged in.

``They apparently just drove off the edge of the pavement, and with the floodwaters just were unable to get out of the vehicle,'' Winona County Administrator Bob Reinert said.

In Brownsville, eight people survived as their houses were pushed over a bluff by a mudslide, the Winona Daily News reported.

In Oklahoma, where the remnants of Tropical Storm Erin soaked the region, a vehicle carrying the wife, daughter and granddaughter of Kiowa Chief Billy Horse was swept from a state highway by rising floodwaters, said Richard Kauahquo, a member of the tribe's business committee.

``The current must have grabbed them,'' Billy Horse told The Oklahoman. ``We saw them go off the road, and float away like a boat. We didn't see them after that.''

The bodies were found still inside the van, which was in a large pond about a quarter of a mile west the highway, said Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Kera Philippi.

Three other people drowned in Oklahoma, including a woman in her cellar in rural Fort Cobb.

Significant flooding was reported in Kingfisher, Okla., where about 100 residents were evacuated from their homes after the nearby Cimarron River flooded its banks.

``Out of its banks doesn't even cover it well enough,'' National Weather Service forecaster Daryl Williams said. ``The Cimarron River tributaries that flow into the town of Kingfisher are just lakes right now.''

Water lapped at the foundations of houses in Watonga, Okla., where the entire community was without power and mobile homes were blown to pieces by winds of up to 82 mph.

``It was quite a night,'' Police Chief Gary Clyden said. ``This was a bad boy. The rain was straight horizontal, and the wind was just awesome.''

In Minnesota, Roger Oldham, 65, thought the safest place he could go with his wife and mother-in-law to avoid the rising water was the roof of their one-story house.

Then violent flood waters from an adjacent drainage ditch blew out their basement wall, ripping the house from its foundation and sending Oldham and the others on a harrowing ride through the town of Stockton. The trio held on for their lives and screamed for help as the house floated about 1,000 feet through the yards of their neighbors, many of whom were also stranded in the dark.

``He said, 'I don't think we're going to make it,''' Bonnie Oldham recalled.

In Taylor County, Texas, searchers found the body of a woman hours after her vehicle was found washed off the road.

In Wisconsin, up to 12 inches of rain triggered a mudslide that pushed a house onto state Highway 35 in Vernon County, said Wisconsin Emergency Management spokeswoman Lori Getter. No injuries were reported.

Residents of downtown Gays Mills, Wis., were taken to a fire station, and a state of emergency was in effect there. The entire downtown was flooded and water was 4 feet deep in some homes, Gilson said.

In Chicago, more than 200 flights were canceled at O'Hare International Airport Sunday because of low visibility caused by the storms, said Gregg Cunningham, spokesman for the city's Department of Aviation.

Delays at O'Hare averaged 2 hours to 2 1/2 hours, while at Midway delays averaged 30 to 60 minutes, Cunningham said.
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