Huge rainfall, high rivers and wind pounded Goodhue County, but the worst appears over.
CANNON FALLS, MINN. - Strong storms that hit parts of the Twin Cities and its fringes Thursday revisited flash flooding upon this city of 4,000, sending two rivers over their banks and threatening homes and businesses in a drama reminiscent of a similar crisis in September 2010.
The storms also spun off a suspected tornado that pounded southern Goodhue County, where two homes were destroyed and crops were pummeled.
Cannon Falls received nearly a foot of rain, prompting the city to urge about 25 residents along washed-out roads to leave their homes, said Police Chief Jeff McCormick. Meanwhile, firefighters and others sandbagged around a few homes to limit damage.
By early Friday afternoon, McCormick rescinded the evacuation recommendation and said he was "cautiously optimistic that the worst is over. We're hoping that we're done."
The raging Cannon River rose so high that it picked up about 28 canoes sitting outside Cannon Falls Canoe Rental and flung them downstream, wrapping at least two around trees along the riverbank. McCormick said he saw one and worried for a moment that someone had taken a canoe out in the torrent.
"The river is incredibly dangerous right now," McCormick said. "If someone got too close and slipped, they'd be gone."
To the south, Cherry Grove Township suffered what Goodhue County Sheriff Scott McNurlin called "significant damage" from 8 to 13 inches of rain, hail and strong winds.
Two homes were destroyed, trees were uprooted and several outbuildings were crushed, McNurlin said.
One outbuilding collapsed on cows that will have to be put down, and farmers in the southern part of the county are dealing with "corn that is shredded as a result of the hail damage and excessive amounts of water," he said.
McNurlin said that "to me, it appears that this was a tornadic event," pointing to the twisted nature of the damage.
Shortly after daybreak in Cannon Falls, river levels had exceeded those of the September 2010 flood, police said.
From 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. Friday, the Little Cannon River rose more than 3 feet and the Cannon River more than 2 feet, police said.
By 9:30 a.m., both rivers were out of their banks, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).
NWS meteorologist Mike Griesinger said the Little Cannon, which feeds the Cannon, crested at 20.4 feet about 5 a.m., breaking the record of 16.5 feet from September 2010. The NWS said there's no water gauge on the Cannon River in Cannon Falls, but the river crested at 14.3 feet downriver at Welch around 10 a.m. -- the second-highest crest on record, below the 15.05 feet recorded on June 27, 1998.
McCormick said a footbridge over the Little Cannon in Cannon Falls was damaged so badly that it will need to be replaced, while erosion significantly undermined a pier supporting another footbridge.
He said officials from the Minnesota Department of Transportation inspected vehicle bridges along Hwy. 19, Hwy. 20 and Mill Street without reporting any problems.
Mud and water invaded one Cannon Falls home's basement and the canoe rental shop, while the roof of a community center and computer labs at the high school were also damaged.
The homeowner, Judy Conway, said she and her husband, Vince, were up all night moving belongings and sandbagging, assisted for a time by about 24 firefighters. The water prevailed about 3 a.m. after "we couldn't get our pumps going fast enough," Vince Conway said, referring to the same pumps that kept their home dry during the 2010 flood.
Ryan Pierce, a bartender at the Mill Street Tavern behind the Little Cannon, was awakened by a co-worker who called at 3:30 a.m. Friday about the encroaching floodwaters. "There was a tiny bit of water but not too bad; we got pretty lucky here," Pierce said.
The rain started late Thursday afternoon and persisted for hours, seeming like "a series of storms that trained over us," said Sheriff McNurlin. The Weather Service also reported flooding in southern Dakota County and in the Northfield area.
Eight to 10 inches of rain fell from near Northfield to Cannon Falls and stretching toward Red Wing, the NWS said.
Citizens in many communities were told to anticipate flooding of country roads, farmland, small creeks and streams. The communities included Red Wing, Cannon Falls, Dennison, Miesville, New Trier, Northfield, Randolph, Stanton and Welch.
Farther south in Rochester, strong winds and rain brought down trees Thursday and cut electricity to several thousand customers.
Officials said that the rivers around Cannon Falls were expected to continue to recede unless the area gets more heavy rain.
"That's the last thing we need at this time," McNurlin said.
Star Tribune staff writer Kris Hernandez and the Associated Press contributed to this report.