Torrential rains wreak havoc in southern Clayton County

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By Shelia Tomkins

A slow-moving line of thunderstorms passed through Clayton County on Tuesday evening, July 11, dumping torrential amounts of rain that led to flooding, evacuations, road closures, bridge wash-outs, rockslides and mudslides. More thunderstorms passing through the area on Wednesday added to the woes.

A disaster declaration has been issued for Clayton County residents affected by flooding.

During the daylight hours on Tuesday, high humidity and high temperatures preceded the storm front, setting up an unstable atmosphere loaded with moisture. 

Early Tuesday evening, thunderstorms began moving into the area. The storms spawned a radar-indicated tornado south of Elkader. As the storms advanced toward southern Clayton County, the principle threat became heavy rain, strong winds and hail. 

The National Weather Service out of LaCrosse, Wis., issued numerous watches and warnings for Clayton County that evening, including a tornado warning, severe thunderstorm and flash flood warnings.

In the bulls-eye for torrential rain were the rolling hills between Osterdock and Millville along the banks of the Turkey River. The river and area creeks rapidly overflowed their banks. The Tuesday evening storm dumped an estimated 10+ inches in the bulls-eye area. Additional heavy rainfall on Wednesday brought the total in some areas to record levels.  Hail also accompanied the Wednesday storms in many locations.

The Clayton County Sheriff's Dept. aided with the evacuation of 15-20 homes along the Turkey River basin in the Osterdock area. More than a dozen roads were closed in southern parts of the county including portions of Cherry Valley, Noble, Millville, Mesquite,  Marengo, Kiln, Johles Hollow and Laser Roads, 355th Street, and Kale Avenue. Travel on Highway 52 was also impacted for a time due to rock slides.

The city of Guttenberg was spared the extreme rainfall that fell to the south and west of town, but still experienced a 5.57 inch downpour in the first round of storms Tuesday evening and an additional .35 inch on Wednesday. Garber and Elkport were upstream from the torrential rains and did not experience the severe damage seen in Osterdock and Millville; the Turkey River had a moderate crest of 18.5 feet there on Wednesday.  

The storm knocked out electrical service in Clayton and Dubuque Counties, with thousands of customers without power in the storm's aftermath. Phone service was also affected in places.

Many long-time area residents commented on the unprecedented rainfall and storm damage, unlike anything ever seen in recent memory. The days following the storm found friends and neighbors helping one another deal with the aftermath.

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