Walker says flood damage has reached $44M

Liam Lahti, 5, of Baraboo, shovels sand Friday morning into a bag held by Baraboo teacher Katie Cummings outside the Baraboo City Service Facility.

BARABOO — Gov. Scott Walker said Friday that state officials estimate damage to public infrastructure due to flooding in south, central and western Wisconsin has reached $44 million.

The majority of that — about $38 million — occurred in Dane County, the first area to sustain flooding after downpours began Aug. 20.

As government agencies begin to inspect damages in the coming weeks as floodwaters recede, “we’ll probably see that grow dramatically,” Walker said during a press conference outside the Baraboo City Hall.

In Madison, a flood warning for the Isthmus has been extended to Sunday afternoon due to heavy rains in the forecast for the Labor Day weekend. The National Weather Service forecast about an inch of rain for Friday night and another 1 to 2 inches through the remainder of the weekend.

Major flooding also continued in various communities in south-central and western Wisconsin, with the Baraboo River so high at Rock Springs the automated water level gauge stopped recording at 12:45 a.m. Friday, with much of the village’s downtown underwater.

The river near Baraboo was expected to rise to 23.5 feet Saturday afternoon. Flood stage is 16.0 feet, and the river won’t fall below that at the near-Baraboo location until Tuesday evening.

On Thursday night and Friday morning, volunteers filled sandbags at the Baraboo City Service Facility to help public workers and those who live near the river brace for flooding. Many from outside the city showed up to lend a hand.

“As a homeowner, water is one of your worst fears,” said Dan Kelter of Sauk City, who drove to Baraboo to help after he received a notification through the Nixle alert system. “I can’t imagine having to deal with this.”

Baraboo resident Katie Cummings held a bag as her 8-year-old son, Aiden, used a miniature shovel to fill it with sand. She was among a group of Baraboo School District staff who volunteered.

The National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch starting Friday evening through Saturday evening for south-central Wisconsin and southeastern Wisconsin in the areas where the worst flooding has already taken place, including Sauk, Columbia, Dodge, Marquette and Green Lake counties.

Slow, no-wake rules are in effect on the Yahara chain of lakes, which includes Mendota, Monona, Waubesa and Kegonsa, meaning boaters need to keep speeds at a minimum, without losing steering, on all of the lakes’ surfaces, all the way through Labor Day.

Tornadoes, dams breached

The first of the three tornadoes Tuesday in Marquette County cut a path up to 50 yards wide with winds reaching 90 mph in the village of Oxford, officials there said Friday.

“This is the first time I can recall tornadic and severe straight-line winds traveling from one end of the county to the other causing a substantial amount of damage through the entire path it traveled,” Marquette County Chief Deputy Sheriff Joe Konrath said.

Elsewhere, straight-line winds reached between 60 and 80 mph and marked a path between five and 10 miles wide. Hardest-hit areas were near Packwaukee.

There were no reported injuries, but 200 homes reported damage, along with wide damage to trees and crops. In the city of Montello, as of Friday morning, 152 homes and businesses reported flood damage, with 13 residences evacuated.

In Vernon County, two dams failed and at least five more of the county’s 22 flood-control dams needed significant repairs after this week’s flooding.

Mark Erickson, resource conservationist with the Vernon County Land and Water Conservation Department, credited the Westby Fire Department with rescuing seven people.

The failure of three dams in Monroe County helped topple 90 percent of the grave markers at the Skogdalen Church near Westby and ripped apart the road in front of the church as it raged toward Coon Creek.

‘Realistic expectations’

Walker announced a state of emergency for the entire state on Wednesday, and said Friday that he asked Vice President Mike Pence for federal assistance, assuming the state meets disaster relief thresholds.

Even if the state receives federal dollars, the governor said, those who qualify for assistance will receive only what is necessary to make their homes habitable. That means many non-essential or personal items lost due to flooding will not be covered.

“I just want to make sure people have realistic expectations,” Walker said.

Officials have been warning residents to avoid floodwaters, and Public Health Madison and Dane County said Friday that 167 water samples from private wells have been tested, with about 20 percent coming back with bacterial contamination, including E. coli.

Free private well testing kits are available at seven locations in Dane County, including Mazomanie, Black Earth, Cross Plains, and the towns of Middleton, Montrose and Verona, as well as at two PHMDC locations in Madison.

“Wells should be disinfected before testing,” said Doug Voegeli, PHMDC environmental health director. “This is best done by a licensed well driller or pump installer. Then, take a water sample, following the careful instructions.”

Tim Damos of the Baraboo News Republic, Bill Novak of the Wisconsin State Journal, Jonathan Stefonek of the Portage Daily Register, Dorothy Robson of the Westby Times and Angela Cina of the Vernon County Broadcaster contributed to this report.

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