Powerful thunderstorms caused widespread flooding Thursday evening in southern Wisconsin, closing down Milwaukee’s airport and opening up a giant sink hole, and two people were hospitalized after being struck by lightning, authorities said.
Heavy rain pounded the region for several hours, and flooding snarled traffic along water-blocked roadways. The National Weather Service reported several tornadoes.
Stephanie Brown of CBS affiliate WTJT says numerous tornadoes were reported, including one captured on tape about 40 miles west of Milwaukee.
A massive sink hole swallowed a Cadillac Escalade at an intersection near downtown Milwaukee, and parts of the city saw up to 7.5 inches of rain in just two hours, according to the state Division of Emergency Management.
A witness who helped the driver out of the sink hole, which he estimated to be about 20 feet deep and 15 feet wide, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the driver kept asking what had happened. Mark Pawlik, who owns a towing company, said he was walking in the rain when he noticed a traffic light sunk into the ground, then saw the large sport utility vehicle approach the intersection.
“The Escalade just went wham!” Pawlik, 46, told the newspaper. “Everything went down. The power line went like ‘pow’ and then I think it was sewer water was just pouring into the hole.”
The driver was taken to a local hospital. His name and condition haven’t been released.
The National Weather Service reported tornado touchdowns near Whitewater, and more between Palmyra and Muskego, but there were no immediate reports of property damage or injuries.
Two people hit by lightning were taken to St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee, but their conditions haven’t been released, emergency management officials said.
Dozens of flights were canceled at Milwaukee-General Mitchell International, which closed around 9:30 p.m. when floodwaters began covering parts of the runways, airport spokeswoman Pat Rowe said. At one point, flooding also blocked outdoor ticketing and baggage claim areas.
Air traffic controllers were evacuated from their tower because of a tornado warning earlier in the evening. They were allowed back about an hour later, and a few planes were allowed to land and take off before flooding forced officials to close the airport, she said.
It was unclear when the airport would reopen.
“There aren’t a whole lot of places where we can push the water,” Rowe said.
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