NORTH YORK, Wis. - Forrest Wiener was in his brother's house in Ashland County on Monday night when he heard something roaring in the distance.

"I thought, 'What in the heck. I don't know what that could be,' " he recalled Tuesday. "I said, 'It's gotta be the creek.' "

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He looked outside, where the normally small, placid tributary of Trout Brook in his brother's backyard wasn't so small anymore.

The creek was swollen to about 100 feet wide - one of many streams and rivers in Northwestern Wisconsin that overflowed their banks and wreaked havoc after rainfall of 8 to 10 inches or more late Monday into early Tuesday.

The flooding claimed at least two lives - one each in Bayfield and Iron counties. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker declared a state of emergency because of flood damage in eight Wisconsin counties - Ashland, Bayfield, Iron, Douglas, Burnett, Washburn, Sawyer and Price - and instructed the National Guard to provide assistance as needed.

Flooding from Trout Brook wiped out two sections of State Highway 13 - one gap about 50 feet wide and the other 100 to 200 feet wide, Wiener said.

The washed-out roads and culverts near North York and Highbridge left a number of people stranded without power or landline phones Tuesday, unable to reach Mellen to the south or Marengo and Ashland to the north unless they could escape by four-wheeler or boat.

Elsewhere in Northwestern Wisconsin, residents faced long detours - if there were detours available. In addition to the washouts on Highway 13, highways closed by flooding included U.S. Highway 2 at Denomie Creek near Odanah; U.S. Highway 63 near Grand View in Bayfield County; State Highway 169 from Mellen to U.S. 2; and State Highway 77 near Minong. Many other town, county and state roads also were closed, either undermined or washed out by the floodwaters.

"It is anticipated that it will take days if not weeks to reopen some of the damaged roads," the Bayfield County Sheriff's Office reported Tuesday night.

The Bad River reached a record level near Odanah, according to the National Weather Service - cresting at 27.28 feet on Tuesday. The previous record was 22.20 feet, set in 1946. Farther upstream, floodwaters from the river forced the closure of Copper Falls State Park near Mellen.

The White River near Ashland also reached a record crest - 8.54 feet, topping the previous record of 7.9 feet set in 1953.

 

Two fatalities

The Bayfield County Sheriff's Office reported that an Illinois man died and his wife was rescued after their vehicle was submerged in floodwaters about 3 miles east of Cable.

Authorities said that at about 11 a.m., Delmar Johnson, 84, of Tower Lakes, Ill., was attempting to turn his vehicle around where County Highway M was blocked by a washout. His wife, Caryljean Johnson, was a passenger.

While Johnson was attempting a Y-turn, the vehicle accelerated at a high speed in reverse and went into a flooded ditch, becoming completely submerged.

A Cable firefighter already on the scene of the washout was able to immediately rescue Caryljean Johnson, who was uninjured. The firefighter then went back into the water and got Delmar Johnson out of the vehicle, but efforts to revive him were unsuccessful. The crash remains under investigation.

In Iron County, Mitchell R. Koski, 56, of Montreal died amid flooding that devastated the Saxon Harbor area.

A Bayfield County deputy nearly lost his life after his vehicle fell into a washout near Grand View.

"The vehicle was carried downstream by the powerful current. The deputy was able to exit his vehicle but was carried farther downstream," the sheriff's office reported. "He had to hang onto a tree for over two hours before he could be recovered."

Personnel from the sheriff's office and the Grand View and Namekagon fire departments assisted with the rescue. The deputy, whose name was not released, was reported to be in good condition Tuesday night at Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth.

 

Cleanup in Marengo

Chris Schutte of North York lives near Trout Brook and one of the major washouts on Highway 13. He said his rain gauge had 5 inches of rain at 9:30 p.m. Monday night - with another 5 inches by 1:30 a.m. Tuesday. He estimated the area received 10 to 11 inches of rainfall.

Schutte said he watched several county workers walk across the Trout Brook railroad trestle next to the Highway 13 washout so they could get to work and begin aiding residents affected by the flood. Some dirt under the trestle had washed out, leaving a gap underneath the tracks and causing a railroad tie to fall, Schutte said.

Chad Nordin lives on a hill near Marengo River, another area that saw flooding from Monday night's storms. When he got up Tuesday morning, he said he could see only the top 6 inches of his car amid the floodwaters. In the 17 years he has lived in the area, Nordin said he had never seen the water at such high levels.

St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church near Marengo had about 3 feet of water and a quarter-inch of mud in its basement, said Claire Ylitalo, one of the volunteers helping clean up Tuesday. She said the floor drainage system caught up and cleared the water after a few hours, leaving her and the other volunteers to clean up mud.

The church had stored boxes of hand-sewn quilts on the basement floor, which they planned to donate to Lutheran World Relief. The quilts are not ruined, she said, but will need to be washed and dried before donating them.

Ylitalo and Lucy Marita, another volunteer, emptied the downstairs kitchen's floor cupboards. Ylitalo pulled out a coffee pot full of muddy floodwater.

"We have tea," she joked, and dumped it down the sink.

Richard Swanson, another volunteer mopping mud from the basement floor, said people traveled in the area were using four-wheelers because the roads were too damaged for cars.

"If the road ain't washed out," he said, "the shoulders are all shot."

Jackie White of Highbridge tried to return home Monday night and again Tuesday morning, with no luck, because of flooded roads and washouts.

"All the culverts leading to our house - they're all down," White said.

Diana Schraufnagel of Highbridge also was unable to get home because of blocked roads. She thought she might be able to return home if she had a canoe.

"We tried every side road," she said. "Everything is washed out."