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Lake Delton empties because of rains; southern Wisconsin hit hard

The National Guard will have engineers at Lake Delton today (Tuesday) to try and bring the water back.

On Monday, the 245-acre man-made lake literally drained, when it washed out a highway embankment on Sauk County Highway A.

Three homes on the lake floated away, as the water created a new channel to the nearby Wisconsin River. The foundations of two other homes were destroyed.

Amazingly, nobody was hurt as the residents either fled, or were gone.

It happened a quarter-mile from the Mirror Lake Dam, which normally controls the water level, but the dam was no match for two days of ferocious rains and the place where the Tommy Bartlett Water Show became a symbol of Wisconsin Dells tourism was reduced to a sea of mud.

Gov. Jim Doyle called Lake Delton critical to the billion-dollar tourist industry in the Dells area. He said state workers would replenish it as soon as possible.

However, it won't be soon enough for the 20 resorts which lined the lake - many of which had reservations canceled as soon as the news got out.

Dismayed residents were told they wouldn't need flood insurance. One asked the governor how she could possibly start over.

Village Trustee Tom Diehl, the water show's operator, said the 400-foot breach was massive and while village engineers are taking a look, he had no idea how to bring the water back.

Doyle said the vast majority of Wisconsin Dells was still open for business.

The region's many water parks and nature boat rides on the Wisconsin River remained unaffected.

Fed help

Wisconsin's federal lawmakers asked for immediate disaster help Monday, as the heavy weekend rains kept causing havoc throughout the southern half of the state.

Thirty counties are in a state of emergency, in the wake of up to 11-inches Saturday and Sunday.

The rain let up Monday, but almost all rivers in the region were near or past their flood stages.

There were still no deaths or serious injuries reported, but hundreds were evacuated or got stuck.

About 100 highways remain closed in Vernon County, where spokeswoman Linda Nederlo said the total damage would surpass $60 million. That's 1.5 times as bad as last August, when the Mississippi River county was pounded by two weeks of rain.

Damage assessments will begin there and elsewhere today.

Doyle visited Oak Creek, as well as Lake Delton, to view the damage.

Numerous roads were flooded out in the Milwaukee area, and thousands of drivers worked around them to get to their jobs.

A canoe capsized on the Milwaukee River in Grafton, but three people made it out OK.

In Waukesha, the state office building will be closed for a second straight day, as the nearby Fox River is at a 35-year high.

In Saukville, former state senator and State Republican Party chairman Donald Stitt drove through a barricade and was rescued when his SUV submerged. He was cited for not obeying a sign. Stitt, 64, blamed his own foolishness.


The National Weather Service now confirms that 11 tornadoes touched down in Wisconsin during the weekend.

They landed Saturday in Columbia, Dane, Sauk, Marquette, Dodge, Waukesha and La Crosse counties.

One tornado touched down near Stoughton, close to where a devastating tornado hit almost two years ago.

This one was rated an EF-1 in the enhanced Fujita system. It had winds of 100 mph and it damaged a church and several homes along a two-mile path.

The most serious weekend storm was near Pardeeville in Columbia County. It was an EF-2 in which five people suffered minor injuries.