Firefighters pull woman from swamped carHad it not been for her sister's persistence, an Eau Claire woman could have drowned in a car Saturday night, authorities said Sunday.
By: By Christena T. O'Brien, The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, Superior Telegram
Had it not been for her sister's persistence, an Eau Claire woman could have drowned in a car Saturday night, authorities said Sunday.
"If it would have kept raining like it was and we hadn't found her, it could have been a different story," said Lt. Bruce Buchholz, one of two Eau Claire firefighters to pull the woman out of a car partially submerged in a drainage ditch.
Thunderstorms dumped several inches of rain in parts of west-central Wisconsin in just a couple of hours Saturday night. In Eau Claire, 4.74 inches of rain were recorded Saturday, which shattered the June 18 rainfall record of 1.94 inches, set in 1954, according to National Weather Service data.
The rain resulted in several road closures in the city because of high water levels, and a number of vehicles were reported stalled in water, including at Stein Boulevard and West Hamilton Avenue, Eau Claire police Lt. Matt Rokus said.
Eau Claire firefighters were dispatched between 7 and 7:30 p.m. for a possible water rescue involving a stalled vehicle but initially couldn't locate the car, Battalion Chief Duane Grunst said. But the woman reporting the incident at Our House Memory Care, 733 W. Hamilton Ave., insisted her sister was in a car.
"She kept saying, 'My sister is over there in the parking lot,' " Buchholz said Sunday. "But she didn't know where (the car) was, and we couldn't find it."
Rather than giving up, firefighters continued to search the area near the intersection of West Hamilton Avenue and Stein Boulevard and then spotted the top of a car's trunk and back of its roof. The vehicle had gone nose-first into a ditch between Western Wisconsin Urology, 3217 Stein Blvd., and Southside Medical Clinic, 714 W. Hamilton Ave.
Buchholz and firefighter Steve Friederichs -- dressed in fire gear -- jumped into the cold water, which was up to their armpits, and found a woman who was halfway between the vehicle's front and back seats.
"She had about 6 inches of air," Buchholz said.
The woman told the emergency responders she needed help getting out of the car, and the men obliged, helping her into the back seat, out the rear door and out of the ditch.
"I told her we had an ambulance on the way, but she didn't want an ambulance," said Buchholz, who was surprised at that. "She just wanted a ride home."
Neither woman's name was available Sunday.
Eau Claire County sheriff's Sgt. Mark Provost had joined in the search for the car and its occupant and saw the vehicle about the same time firefighters did.
"Sometimes you just happen to be in the right place at the right time," he said.
Elsewhere in the city, manhole covers were blown off by rushing water in several areas, and the storm resulted in about 4,000 Xcel Energy customers losing power.
Outside the city of Eau Claire, the Sheriff's Department received reports of a few trees down, and that was about it, Provost said.
An eastbound section of Interstate 94 was closed for about 30 minutes between Highways C and E west of Eau Claire in the town of Union because of a mudslide that resulted in a slippery road and three minor crashes, according to the State Patrol.
Some property owners in Altoona, along with a number in Eau Claire, had their homes and businesses flooded.
Since 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Steamatic had 22 jobs for flooded basements, said Denni Backstrom, who co-owns the business with her husband, Josh.
One Eau Claire business had 4 feet of water in its lower level, and 85,000 gallons of water were removed, she said Sunday night.
"I could not believe that much water could come into a building," said Backstrom, who was called in to help, along with other employees.
Once the water was gone, mud, leaves and pine needles were left behind, along with a lot of damage, which required the removal of the carpet and its padding, she said. Drywall and insulation also had to be cut out to keep bacteria from growing.
"These poor people," said Backstrom, who declined to name the business. "I just felt so bad for them."
Backstrom expects her company will get more calls once people who were out of town for Father's Day weekend return home or employees return to work today.
Copyright (c) 2011, The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis.
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