LAWLER — A man who died in flash flooding near here early Wednesday had placed a 911 emergency call to authorities after floodwater swept his car off the road, Chickasaw County authorities said.
It was just one development in a night of heavy rain and flash flooding that drenched much of the northern third of the state, closing roads and forcing evacuations in several areas.
The man’s body was found just before 1 p.m. Wednesday about a third of a mile from where his car was found, off County Road V-56 north of Lawler near the Jerico turnoff, said Marty Hemann, a deputy with the Chickasaw County Sheriff’s Office. The body was found on ground where floodwaters had subsided.
The victim, whose name is not being released pending notification of family, had called 911 about 4:40 a.m. after the driver hit water over the road from the Little Turkey River and was swept off the roadway, authorities said. Authorities found his vehicle but did not immediately locate the driver. They put in a rescue craft and multiple agencies helped with the search.
Chickasaw County officials warn motorists many roads may be deteriorated or compromised due to flooding and urged drives to use caution.
The city of Spillville was an island Wednesday morning, Mayor Mike Klimesh said, as the Turkey River approached a record crest.
Bridges were under water, preventing people from leaving or entering Spillville, Klimesh reported. He said a tree had damaged one bridge.
“I never thought I’d see water like this again in my life,” said Klimesh, who added “tourists and sightseers” should stay away.
Sandbagging efforts were abandoned early Wednesday, said Klimesh, who, like many other Spillville residents had not slept Tuesday night. He reported the historic Inwood Ballroom was under water.
“We pulled the plug on sandbagging because the water came so fast. We were surprised. We learned a lot about sandbagging in 2008 — in certain areas it doesn’t make any sense to sandbag,” Klimesh said.
Nine homes had been evacuated and power was turned off to seven of those homes due to the high water, he said.
The Spillville ballroom was unreachable after the Turkey spilled over its banks at a higher crest than the city saw in 2008. Water nearly overtopped a new highway bridge over the Turkey River.
Bill and Steven Kovarik watched as the water rose to enter their father’s home. The 90-year-old homeowner stayed put in the house after the 2008 flood.
“This is his home,” said Bill Kovarik. “It’s all he’s ever known.”
The water crested midday and began to slowly go down. “That’s all you can do,” said Kovarik watching the water from the porch. “Watch it go up then watch go down.”
Twenty-four-hour rain totals of 4.3 to 8.46 inches were reported in Winneshiek County Tuesday into Wednesday morning. Storms dropped between 3 and 8 inches of rain on communities from Worth County along Interstate 35 to the Mississippi River.
Freeport residents evacuated
Decorah and Bluffton and Fort Atkinson also were been significantly affected by flooding.
Fort Atkinson Mayor Paul Herold said a trailer court north of Iowa Highway 24 was evacuated Wednesday morning as the Turkey River overtook roadways into the neighborhood. He said Rogers Creek went up 9 feet in three hours
City officials were expecting the Turkey River to crest Wednesday afternoon more than a foot above the 2008 flood.
“If they’re going to call that a 500 year flood what are they going to call this?” Herold said.
The city of Decorah received nearly an inch of rain an hour overnight Tuesday and into Wednesday, causing flash flooding and forcing some residents living along the Upper Iowa River in the adjacent unincorporated community of Freeport to evacuate to nearby Stone Ridge Community Church at Montgomery Street and Iowa Highway 9 in Decorah, which served as a shelter, where Salvation Army food and cleaning kits were available
Freeport residents had little warning. When emergency officials swept through the neighborhood at about 5 a.m., water was already up to some residents’ doors.
One home’s basement collapsed at 172nd Avenue and 252 Street from water pressure.
Kristina Lipa and Travis Teslow worked to retrieve items from their parents’ home on 252nd Street in Freeport.
“They didn’t have nothing,” Teslow said. “Not even a toothbrush.”
Much of the roadway from River Road was under water all day. The two waded through flood waters to carry boxes and belongings out of the home.
“At least they’re both OK,” Lipa said.
Sandbags were available at the Winneshiek County Sheriff’s office. Decorah High School wrestlers helped fill sandbags.
“We received just about 7 inches. It started raining about 7 p.m. last night and didn’t stop raining until 4 or 5 this morning,” Decorah City Manager Chad Bird said. “It was a pretty substantial thunderstorm. There was loud thunderboomers and pretty wicked lightning most of the night.”
Bird said some longtime residents told him, “in some areas of town, the water was higher today than it was in ‘08,” referring to the historic 2008 flood that ravaged most of eastern Iowa. But that year’s flood was sustained, he said, and this was due to flash flooding.
Fortunately the city’s flood control system did its job, Bird said. “We have a levee-dike system protecting us from the river, and the internal floodgates that automatically close,” he said, with pumps where water ponds up. He noted Luther College has a similar system. The Upper Iowa was cresting about 1.5 feet above flood stage at midday Wednesday.
Schools in the Decorah, Howard-Winneshiek, Riceville, New Hampton and North Winneshiek schools district called off school Wednesday.
Correspondent Sarah Strandberg contributed to this story.