Floods cause death and destruction across the nation

GAYS MILLS, Wis. – Water-weary residents across the Midwest began counting their losses yesterday as damage estimates from this weekend’s deadly flash floods climbed into the tens of millions. The rain moved into Ohio, where roads flooded, schools canceled classes and residents were rescued from flooded homes by boats.

The death toll from the two storm systems – one in the Upper Midwest and the remnants of Tropical Storm Erin in Texas and Oklahoma – climbed to 22 when searchers found the body of a man tangled in a tree about four miles from his wrecked, upside-down car near a creek south of Lewiston, Minn.

Most of Gays Mills, a village of 640 people in southwestern Wisconsin, had been under water Sunday night. About half of the village was accessible yesterday, and the growl of sump pumps filled the air as residents made their way back in.

“It’s heart-wrenching, man,” said Deb Holtz, 48, who found the furniture shop she runs with her husband in Gay Mills coated with mud. “Makes me want to cry.”

In the Ohio village of Carey, waist-deep water swirled through the tiny downtown, submerging cars to their rooftops. Dozens of flooded streets made it impossible to cross the town. The Carey Nursing ‘ Rehabilitation Center was evacuated, with 28 residents transferred to a local hospital.

Firefighters used boats to rescue families from flooded homes in Bucyrus after nearly nine inches of rain fell, and the Upper Sandusky school district in north-central Ohio canceled the first day of school.

In Wisconsin and Minnesota, thousands of homes were damaged: A preliminary survey by the American Red Cross in Minnesota identified about 4,200 affected homes, including 256 complete losses, 338 with major damage and 475 that are still inaccessible, said Kris Eide, the state’s director of homeland security and emergency management.

About 100 flood victims met with Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty in a sometimes contentious meeting Monday during which he cautioned against expecting miracles, especially because many flood victims don’t have insurance.

“I think it sucks,” Jeff Strain, of Stockton, said yesterday, standing beside muddied boxes of Christmas decorations, a bike and other household goods piled on his driveway. “We need to know what’s going to go on so we can start making plans. … As far as government, I haven’t heard anything.”

Preliminary damage reports in Wisconsin topped $38 million yesterday and were expected to keep rising.