Flash floods kill 3 in Indiana

Vehicles move through flooded streets in Monticello, Ind. Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2008.

The Associated Press
Published: Wednesday, January 9, 2008 at 1:04 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 9, 2008 at 1:04 p.m.

MONTICELLO, Ind. Flooded rivers began withdrawing Wednesday across a swath of northern Indiana where three people were killed and hundreds of homes were damaged as melting snow and heavy rain swelled rivers during an unusual January warm streak.

Five deaths were blamed on flooding and tornadoes across the Midwest on Tuesday, the second day of severe weather fueled by unseasonable temperatures. Tornadoes also blew through several states Monday and Tuesday. Two of the victims were young siblings.

Water had started receding along Indiana's Tippecanoe River, which had risen to record levels along a 20-mile stretch, but numerous roads were still blocked by water in the Monticello area, said White County emergency management director Gordon Cochran. He had no immediate estimate for how many homes were damaged.

"We're hoping that by midafternoon it's going to start going down enough that we can get to some of these places," Cochran said.

Elsewhere, as remnants of the storm system moved eastward, thunderstorms early Wednesday knocked out electricity to more than 100,000 homes and businesses in western New York. Gusts up to 85 mph were clocked at the Thousand Islands Bridge in northern New York, the National Weather Service said.

An empty U.S. Airways regional airliner briefly lifted off the ground at the Rochester, N.Y., airport as wind gusted to 75 mph. The 50-passenger aircraft's tail and front landing gear were damaged, airport officials said.

The same system produced wind gusts to 63 mph during the night in Ohio, where at least 50,000 customers were blacked out Wednesday morning.

Flood warnings remained in effect Wednesday in parts of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Missouri, the weather service said.

A tornado that hit Appleton, Ark., on Tuesday rolled a mobile home off its foundation, killing a man and injuring his wife. The trailer appeared to have rolled for 50 yards before smashing against a stand of trees in the rural area about 60 miles northwest of Little Rock.

"The tornado hit and ... it looked like his house pretty much exploded," Pope County Sheriff Jay Winters said. "It was taken completely off the blocks and just tore to pieces."

Kirk Killins, his girlfriend and his father were heading toward his parents' house and storm cellar when his truck was halted by the tornado's wind.

"I had it floored and it wasn't doing nothing. I looked to my right and the hay barn and shop just disappeared," Killins said.

Killins said one of his family's cows survived although the storm "probably carried her about three-quarters of a mile."

Tornadoes were confirmed or reported Monday in Wisconsin, Arkansas, Illinois, Oklahoma and Missouri, where two people were killed.

In northern Indiana, Megihann Leininger's SUV stalled Tuesday on a flooded road near Rochester, about 45 miles south of South Bend, and floated into deeper water, the Fulton County Sheriff's Department said.

The first officer on the scene could see nothing except its roof rack, Mentone Fire Chief Mike Yazel said. He said Leininger, 29, got to the surface and put three of her children ages 4 to 3 months on the roof.

Rescuers used a front loader to pluck Leininger and the three children, but there was nothing anyone could do for Shay Leininger, 5, and Ashley Pruitt, 2, who were trapped underwater.

"The water was too deep, too cold, too fast," Yazel said.

To the southwest in Jasper County, one man drowned in Remington when his truck was swept into a creek, and another man died Tuesday in flooding in eastern Illinois, authorities reported.

As many as 150 people evacuated areas around Remington, Ind., and in nearby White County boats were called to help move out hundreds of people in Monticello, Blue Water Beach and Diamond Point, local officials said.

The thunderstorms that dumped as much as 7 inches of rain on Indiana were accompanied by record warmth across much of the eastern half of the nation. Boston reached 67 degrees, Atlantic City, N.J., hit 68 and Syracuse, N.Y., reached 70 tying a record for January.

Elsewhere, search teams set out in a snowstorm Wednesday in the southwest Colorado mountains to look for two snowboarders missing since Saturday, but helicopters were grounded. "You can't see, it's snowing, the wind is blowing," Mineral County sheriff's spokeswoman Sandy Kroll said.

The area got more than 4 feet of snow during the weekend.

Six snowmobilers were rescued elsewhere in southern Colorado on Monday after they were missing for 2 days, and two snowboarders were rescued Tuesday in northern New Mexico after they spent three nights in snow caves.

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