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Death toll mounts as floods, heat wave batter US

by Staff Writers
Chicago (AFP) Aug 23, 2007
Unrelenting storms and floods have forced thousands of people from their homes, while other states have wilted in a record-breaking heatwave with the death toll from the extreme weather hitting the US rising to almost 50 Thursday.

Mudslides and murky floodwaters hampered rescue efforts in the central and southern states of Minnesota, Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin after a week of heavy rains that has left 23 dead.

In Wisconsin three people, including a toddler, were the latest victims, after they were electrocuted and died on Wednesday when lightening struck a utility pole and knocked a live wire into a deep puddle at a bus stop.

Meanwhile, soaring temperatures in the southeastern states of Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama have been blamed for the deaths at least 25 people.

The trouble began a week ago when tropical storm Erin gathered strength instead of weakening as it passed over Oklahoma and Texas, which is experiencing its wettest year in more than a century.

Erin then joined up with another storm system which had brought mudslides, floods and seven deaths to Minnesota.

Together, the storms strengthened and dumped even more rain on the saturated grounds and overflowing rivers of the midwest.

"This is unprecedented," said Patrick Slattery, a spokesman for the National Weather service, predicting that more rain is on the way.

Recovery workers in Oklahoma were searching Thursday for the body of a high school student sucked into floodwaters while running with his cross country team.

Six other people were confirmed dead in the state after the remnants of Erin triggered flooding over the weekend that continues to wreck havoc.

It was the third major flood the state has faced this summer and the deadliest so far because of the intensity of the storm, said Michaelann Otten, a spokeswoman for the department of Emergency Management.

"What made this one so amazingly intense is we had an eye of a hurricane form over our state," she told AFP. "We haven't seen it flood so fast and so high in recent memory."

An initial survey of three counties found 42 homes destroyed and 451 badly damaged. Damage in 21 other counties has not yet been assessed because roads are still impassable, she said.

In Madison, Wisconsin, a woman and her toddler were electrocuted as was a man who jumped off the bus to try to help them when a live wire fell into a puddle at their bus stop. The bus driver was also shocked when he tried to help but was knocked back into the bus and survived, police said in a press release.

Several rivers in Ohio river breached their banks after days of heavy rains and swamped cities and towns across the state.

A 74-year-old man died after floodwaters knocked over a gasoline can and the pilot light of a nearby water heater set the gas ablaze, the Mansfield News-Journal reported.

Texas was spared the brunt of hurricane Dean's wrath this week but was still cleaning up from the damage wrought by Erin and months of endless rain which caused six deaths last week.

This brought the state's flash-flood deaths to 40 so far this year, which ties the record set in 1989, said Victor Murphy, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

"We've had persistent, ongoing, relentless precipitation pretty much all year," Murphy told AFP. "It's our wettest year on record so far... dating back to 1895."

Meanwhile, a crippling heat wave brought death and drought to the south eastern states of Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. Thirteen deaths were reported in Memphis, Tennessee and a dozen were reported in Alabama, officials said.

"These are a hundred year plus records that are being shattered," Murphy said.

One such record was in Athens, Georgia which has had 13 days this month with temperatures at or above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to an average of one day a year in August.

Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen has made emergency funds available to buy air conditioners and fans for low-income residents.

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Dean's death toll rises with new deaths in Mexico
Puebla (AFP) Aug 23, 2007
A couple and their two children were killed in central Mexico Thursday by a landslide caused by driving rains blamed on the remnants of hurricane Dean, raising to at least 25 the death toll from the storm's rampage.

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