Heavy rain atop frozen ground causes flooding in Midwest

  • Jim Freeman, right, and his son Chad, work to clear thick ice slabs from his property in Fremont, Neb., Thursday, March 14, 2019, after the ice-covered Platte River flooded it’s banks. Evacuations forced by flooding have occurred in several eastern Nebraska communities. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

  • The swollen Pecatonica River spills into downtown Darlington, Wis., on Thursday March 14, 2019. The National Weather Service has issued a flood warning or flood watch for about two-thirds of the state. (Dave Kettering/Telegraph Herald via AP)

  • A man works his way through a flooded Galena Street as the Pecatonica River continues to rise in Darlington, Wis., Thursday, March 14, 2019. The National Weather Service has issued a flood warning or flood watch for about two-thirds of the state. (Dave Kettering/Telegraph Herald via AP)

BISMARCK, N.D. — Heavy rain falling atop deeply frozen ground has prompted evacuations along swollen rivers in Wisconsin, Nebraska and other Midwestern states, while powerful wind and snow has impacted hundreds of miles of interstates in North Dakota.

The flooding is likely to persist into the weekend in states where frozen ground is preventing snowmelt and rain from a massive late-winter storm from soaking into the soil, according to forecasters.

Snow and poor visibility prompted officials to close two interstates in eastern North Dakota, though the roadways were slowly reopening late Friday morning. In South Dakota, schools in Rapid City were closed as residents dug out from a blizzard, while flooding on the other side of the state prompted officials in Sioux Falls to go door-to-door and evacuate residents from homes.

Flooding made several highways impassable in Wisconsin, where rescuers in Fond du Lac had to move residents to higher ground after flooding along the Fond du Lac River. And a tornado that swept through mid-Michigan late Thursday damaged at least 21 homes and knocked out power to thousands of people, according to state police and first-responders. No injuries were immediately reported.

The system, which moved into the Midwest after crippling parts of Colorado and Wyoming with blizzard conditions, continues to move east — but the effects aren’t expected to be as bad as what was seen Thursday in Nebraska and Iowa, where quickly rising water washed out roads, triggered evacuations and left farmers worried that all the water would drown livestock.

“With the frozen ground and amount of rain our area had, it was just a perfect set of circumstances that led to the flooding we’re seeing in Nebraska and Iowa,” meteorologist Paul Fajman said.

Local residents who had to evacuate will be cleaning up the damage for some time.

“It was ugly. It still is,” Jim Freeman said after using a chain saw to cut up a chunk of ice that floodwaters left in his driveway in Fremont, Nebraska. “There’s a lot of damage.”

Many of the homes in Freeman’s neighborhood were inundated by water that flowed in from the Platte River. Fajman said parts of northeastern Iowa also can expect more flooding Friday and into the weekend.

Emergency crews responded after a vehicle was swept off a road in Norfolk, Nebraska, and rising water along the Elkhorn River prompted evacuations in the city of 24,000 people. The missing motorist had not been found by late Thursday.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem closed all state offices Thursday as the blizzard conditions moved in, and later in the day ordered the opening of the state’s Emergency Operations Center to handle the response to the blizzard and flooding. Rainfall records were set Wednesday in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Sioux City, Iowa.

“We’ve got a lot of water, and it’s got to find a way to get out of here,” said Tracy West, mayor of Lennox, South Dakota.


Contributing to this report were Associated Press reporters Josh Funk in Omaha, Nebraska; Dan Elliott in Longmont, Colorado; David Pitt in Des Moines, Iowa; Bob Moen and Mead Gruver in Cheyenne, Wyoming; Gretchen Ehlke in Milwaukee; Nelson Lampe in Omaha, Nebraska.


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