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Sifting through the mud

Wis. residents near damaged lake return to new mudhole left by flood.

LAKE DELTON, Wis. - One of the most scenic getaways in the Midwest is devastated.

Weekend rains dumped so much water into Lake Delton that it literally burst its banks.

Tens of thousands of gallons of lake water barreled through the woods, taking with it a roadway, several houses, boats, fish and lake bed. It emptied into the nearby Wisconsin River and was gone in hours.

Yesterday morning, 24 hours after the catastrophe, the 267-acre lake is nearly drained and resembles a muddy moonscape of cracked earth.

Fish bake in the sun, flopping until their deaths. Mounds of dead fish are piled high. The shoreline is jagged and cracked. Boats hang in the air suspended by what is left of the docks.

In parts, the little water that is left meanders like a silent brook. The roadway and earth that held the river back is now a grand canyon.

"Just this weekend it was full of fish, full of boaters, full of life, and now it's gone," said Harland Tourdoy who has been fishing these waters for a half-century.

Standing on beachhead, where lake waters used to lap at his feet, Tourdoy watched as a lone canoeist attempted to navigated a narrow channel that was left of the lake center. "I wonder if it'll ever be the same," he said.

Lake Delton is nature's signature landscape for the Wisconsin Dells. While the region draws thousands to its indoor and outdoor water parks, Delton was the natural draw for water skiing, fishing and other recreation.

Condominiums, hotels, and mom-and-pop homes dot the jagged shoreline that offered serene vistas of the lakes. State officials vow to refill the lake as soon as possible. But locals are skeptical.

"When will I ever get my view back?" asked Sue Schultz, who lives on a bluff above the lake.

Engineers and National Guard teams examined dams across Wisconsin yesterday looking for signs of damage from the high water that demolished Lake Delton's embankments. They found no significant damage.

The storm also displaced thousands of Indiana residents and was blamed for 15 deaths in the Midwest and elsewhere, the Associated Press reported.

The National Weather Service yesterday predicted crests of 10 feet above flood stage during the next two weeks in the Mississippi River at places including Hannibal, Mo., and Quincy and Grafton, Ill. Most of the towns are protected by levees, but outlying areas could be flooded.

Levee breaks yesterday in southeastern Illinois flooded 50 to 75 square miles of farmland along the Embarras River, forcing evacuations of a number of homes northeast of Lawrenceville.

In Iowa, officials in Cedar Falls told downtown residents and business owners to prepare for possible evacuations as the Cedar River threatened to top the area's protective levee.