Residents in Wisconsin’s far northern counties are assessing damage and starting to clean up their properties after torrential rainfall hit the region early Tuesday.
A third fatality in the flooding was confirmed Thursday: 82-year-old Elmer Lippo of Marengo, found in his pickup truck in the floodwaters of the Marengo River in Ashland County.
Gov. Scott Walker declared a state of emergency in eight counties, including Ashland, Bayfield, Burnett, Douglas, Iron, Sawyer, Washburn and Price, with multiple state agencies providing assistance in the region.
While damage is widespread and flooding continues to make some highways impassable, the Department of Tourism sent out a news release reminding people the affected area is still accessible and open for business. Visitors should be aware there might be detours set up.
Several major highways in the north have stretches that are closed, including highways 2, 13 and 63, and depending on how much repair work is needed, some highways might take awhile to reopen.
Diana Maas of the DOT told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Highway 13 will take the longest to fix because of two bridge washouts, while Highway 2 might reopen in a few weeks.
Damage estimates made to Wisconsin Emergency Management were in the hundreds of thousands of dollars in most counties, but damage was in the millions at Saxon Harbor in Iron County.
Officials said the public sector damage estimate was over $10 million, and that doesn’t count the loss of dozens of pleasure boats docked in the harbor, with many sunk or blown miles away.
The Lake Superior harbor is about midway between Ironwood and Ashland.
Salvaging of sunken boats is expected to begin Friday.
On Wednesday, a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter of the Wisconsin National Guard took five members of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa from the Bad River Reservation to Ashland, so they could get their dialysis treatment, since going by road was impossible.
The Department of Health Services issued a warning on Friday to residents and cleanup crews in the affected area to use extreme caution while assessing damage or removing debris, because of the many health risks.
Flood waters can contain raw sewage, fertilizer, gasoline, pesticides and other harmful substances, so people should not swim, bathe or wade in lakes, streams or any other waters affected by the flooding.
Caution should also be used in cleanup, in case there are downed power lines, broken glass or other hazards in the water.
Water wells could also be contaminated, so well owners with flooding near the well should assume the well is contaminated and not use water from it until the floodwaters recede and the well has been disinfected and tested.