Ice-cold floodwater surrounded four adults and two infants at a Janesville intersection on Tuesday afternoon.
Jonathan Johnson said the water looked shallow enough for the Mazda 5 crossover he was driving, but it stalled. He got out to push, and water rushed in, filling the vehicle with icy water to the edges of the seats.
After a time, “I couldn’t feel my legs anymore, so I stopped. I stood on top of the car,” he said.
That’s when firefighters were called. They quickly rescued the adults and children, placing them in warm trucks.
At about the same time, another driver stalled in the intersection. He got out, and the car floated away, said the man’s wife, who would identify herself only as Erica.
The intersection of Beloit Avenue and Delavan Drive was one of many spots in Rock and Walworth counties closed by as much as 2 inches of rain that fell overnight Monday and into Tuesday, sometimes in heavy downpours.
Combined with melting snow and frozen ground, the water rushed down hills and into low areas.
Many homeowners faced little dramas of their own as they tried to steer water away from their flooding basements. Several sandbag stations opened around Rock County. The Janesville station had given out about 1,500 sandbags by 4 p.m., with an after-work rush expected, tired workers said.
Carol Schmidt filled her trunk with sandbags and headed home. She has the lowest house on her block of South Grant Avenue, she said, and water was draining from surrounding properties.
“It’s a swamp,” she said, a phrase rarely heard in mid February.
Schmidt and several others at the sandbag station said this was the first time they'd had a problem with water in their basements.
Schmidt has been in the same house for 11 years. She said her sons were at work, so she planned to stack the sandbags herself.
Monarch Drive resident Marv Smith said water was pouring into his and his neighbors’ condos.
“I’m scared to death. I can’t afford it,” he said of the potential damage.
As local officials urged motorists not to drive through standing water Tuesday, they worried the water would freeze on roads Tuesday night, creating new dangers for drivers.
Temperatures were expected to hit the freezing point at about 9 p.m. and continue dropping to about 20 degrees by sunrise Wednesday, said Ben Herzog, meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Sullivan.
Sgt. Shena Kohler of the Rock County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Management Bureau said she could not recall flooding ever happening so early in the year. She said its effects were felt across a wide area because in many cases there was nowhere for the water to go because of frozen ground or snow cover.
“It’s pretty impressive, for lack of better words,” Kohler said. “We have just county-wide flooding. The roads are impassable. Vehicles are being stranded because they’re going through high water the cars are not made for.”
Kohler said so many roads were closed around Rock County on Tuesday that it was impossible to give an accurate list.
“If people come across roads that are closed or covered in water, don’t do it,” Herzog said, echoing local officials.
“The depth of the water is uncertain, and it can rise. We don’t want to see anyone get hurt,” said Walworth County sheriff’s Capt. Dave Gerber.
Gerber said the Walworth County Sheriff’s Office was working with county and town officials to post high-water warning signs. One closed road was Rice Road between Highway 67 and Adams Road in northern Walworth County.
A National Weather Service meteorologist told Kohler that Rock and Green counties took the brunt of the rainfall over the past two days.
Most of Rock County received 1 to 2 inches, but some pockets got more, Kohler said.
In other flooding news:
- At 6 p.m. Tuesday, the Department of Transportation reported Highway 104 on the Green-Rock county line, between County B and Highway 11, was closed because of water over the road.
- The Milton Fire Department assisted with precautionary measures at Milton Propane on Tuesday.
The business on East Vincent Street was closed because of high water. Workers tied tanks down to prevent them from floating away as the water crept closer.
Milton Deputy Fire Chief Jeremy Parker said there was no hazard with the tanks being partially submerged.
- The Rock River gauge at Afton showed “minor flood stage” Tuesday afternoon.
The river crested at 10.54 feet at Afton around 4 p.m. Tuesday and was expected to start falling soon after.
At that depth, floodwaters affect Riverside Park on the north side of Janesville and South River Road on the south side of Janesville, according to the National Weather Service website, and lowland flooding is extensive in the Janesville area.
- Turtle Creek near Clinton was also in minor flood stage, cresting at about 10 feet Tuesday afternoon, according to online data.
- Evansville officials closed Lake Leota Park on Tuesday “due to flooding and safety concerns,” according to the police Facebook page.
Gazette reporters Nate Jackson, Angela Major and Ashley McCallum contributed to this story.