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Published: Tuesday, 6/10/2008

Floods imperil Midwest dams


LAKE DELTON, Wis. - An embankment along a man-made lake gave way under severe flooding yesterday, unleashing a powerful current that ripped several homes off their foundations and down the Wisconsin River.

Floodwater threatened dams across the Midwest, and military crews joined desperate sandbagging operations to hold back Indiana streams surging toward record levels. Stormy weekend weather was blamed for 10 deaths, mostly in the Midwest.

While the Midwest struggled with flooding, the East was locked in a sauna. Heat advisories were posted from the Carolinas to Connecticut, with temperatures topping 100 from Georgia to Virginia. New York City recorded a high of 99.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it would close a 250-mile stretch of the Mississippi River - from Fulton, Ill., to Clarksville, Mo. - as soon as Thursday because of flooding, bringing barge traffic to a halt.

The closure could last up to two weeks, corps spokesman Ron Fournier said.

In Wisconsin, an embankment forming the side of the man-made Lake Delton failed, and the water poured out into the nearby Wisconsin River. The 245-acre lake nearly emptied, washing out part of a highway, sweeping away three homes and tearing apart two others.

Don Kubenik, 68, burst into tears after seeing the $500,000, 2,800-square foot home he built in 2003 snapped into pieces.

"That house had everything you can imagine, and now it's all gone," Mr. Kubenik said. "My boat's gone. The pier's gone. Everything is gone."

Some 200 Indiana National Guard members and 140 Marines and sailors joined local emergency agencies yesterday in sandbagging a levee of the White River at Elnora, about 100 miles southwest of Indianapolis. The White River was forecast to crest today at nearby Newberry at 16 feet above flood stage.

By yesterday morning, flooding at eight sites in central and southern Indiana had eclipsed levels set in the deluge of March, 1913, which had been considered Indiana's greatest flood in modern times, said Scott Morlock, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Indiana.

President Bush late Sunday declared a major disaster in 29 Indiana counties. Iowa Gov. Chet Culver said nearly a third of his state's 99 counties need federal help. Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle had declared 30 counties in a state of emergency.

The weekend death toll included six in Michigan, two in Indiana, and one each in Iowa and Connecticut.

In Michigan, a flood watch remained in effect until this morning for much of the central, western, and southwestern lower peninsula.

Strong winds and torrential rains brought down trees and power lines, washed away roads, and flooded garages, basements, and farm fields over the weekend.

The deaths happened Sunday. Two people delivering newspapers for the Grand Rapids Press drowned after the road beneath their car collapsed, plunging it into a ravine.

Two others were killed by falling trees, a man apparently drowned while tending to a dam, and a woman died when high winds blew a recreational vehicle on top of her, authorities said.

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