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The recent flood set new records
Flood sets record
GAYS MILLS, like all the towns up and down the Kickapoo River Valley, was inundated with historic flooding levels. Water got into homes and business-es that had not been flooded even in the previ-ous record-setting flood of 2008. Photo by Erin Martin

KICKAPOO VALLEY - Yes it flooded again last week in the Kickapoo River Valley and it set another all-time record. This flood was deeper than the 2008 flood, which was the deepest flood to date. Record flood depths were set from Ontario to Steuben and at all communities between those two villages.

In Gays Mills, the water definitely went places it had never gone before—including several residences that had been elevated after the 2008 flood.

FEMA paid to have more than 20 houses elevated to the 100-year flood level subsequent to the 2008 flood. If owners wanted them higher they had to pay for that themselves and few did. Of the elevated structures, only two escaped without taking on water. One was Mason Evans house at 208 Grove Street and the other was Brad Otto’s house at 422 Orin Street.

Evans commented that taking Jerry Brockway’s advice to go two feet higher than the standard flood elevation was the best advice he ever followed.

Otto and Bryan Banitt were some of the first to elevate their house without financial assistance following the 2007 flood. They elevated to a substantial height just a block from the Kickapoo River and were not impacted even in the most recent flood.

Just about everybody else in the floodplain and perhaps a few that were just out of the floodplain had floodwater in their residences this time. Longtime village residents Maura Otis and Barry Jensen had their Orin Street residence elevated after dealing with the floodwaters of 2007 and 2008. It flooded last week.

Otis, the former Gays Mills librarian and a deputy village clerk, was a co-chairperson of the Gays Mills Long Range Planning Committee, which had favored the relocation effort following the 2008 flood. However, when the time came to make a decision, she and Jensen opted to elevate their house on Orin Street.

All of the other 19 elevated houses took in some amount of water in the most recent flood, according to Gays Mills Village Clerk Dawn McCann. In fact, about 50 houses in Gays Mills were evacuated in the course of the flood. Of those evacuated, only a few have returned, many are working on cleaning and repairing damage and some have indicated they do not intend to return.

However, it wasn’t just residences that bore the brunt of flooding in Gays Mills. All of the remaining businesses in Gays Mills floodplain also took a hit this time, including the Royal Bank located on Highway 171 at the base of the orchard hill. The bank, like several other businesses impacted by the flood, had never experienced flood damage in the past. This year water got onto the floor and soaked the carpeting.

It was worse further down Main Street toward the river. Both the Kickapoo Exchange Food Co-op and the Village Greenhouse received about 18 inches of water from the flood. Neither had experienced any previous flooding.

“I’ve been here for 34 years and never had a drop of water on the floor and now I get 18 inches,” a rather incredulous Joe Brandt told the Independent-Scout on Friday.

It was the same at the Farm Pride Bakery a few doors down. Owners Brenda and Albert Zegiel were also shocked to have had water in the bakery at about the 18-inch level after going through numerous floods, including 2007 and 2008, without any flooding.

Among the businesses, the real shocker was the Apple Valley Veterinary Clinic, which was built to elevation in the 1990s and had never flooded. This time, water did get into the vet clinic.

The Kickapoo Exchange Food Co-op was another Main Street business that had escaped the previous floods. In last week’s flood, the store got about 18 inches of water. Last Sunday they held a sale at the Gays Mills Mercantile Center of their recovered products.

It came as no surprise that the U.S. Post Office in Gays Mills, built in the 90s with a floodplain elevation waiver, flooded again. This time the Post Office relocated to the Soldiers Grove Post Office. The hours there are 8:45 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Monday through Friday and Saturday morning hours are yet to be determined. As always the post office lobby is open 24 hours every day of the weeks to allow patrons access to post office boxes.

If all that wasn’t enough, there was also significant infrastructure damage in the village. Beyond the normal flood damage to the streets, sidewalks and parks, the village sewer plant was compromised. Floodwater filled the basement of the building effectively shutting down the pumps.

The village is working to get the sewer plant operating again as soon as possible, according to village officials.

Building inspections of damaged structures in Gays Mills started on Friday. The village’s previous building inspector Mike Reutger was handling the work.

While damage was much less in Soldiers Grove because of the massive relocation of residences and businesses that took place after the 1978 flood, there were still some problems. Like the experiences of Gays Mills, floodwater went to places and at depths previously never seen.

“Most of our damage was to the roads and parks

An area known as ‘the flat’ in Soldiers Grove is located above and behind the horse arena. The residential area is known to be well out of the floodplain. However, this time was different. As the water came up, it became clear that it was going to get into the flat. While it never did get much depth, it did get into basements and on the floor of some residences.

Between 2 to 4 a.m., the decision was made to evacuate the flat, because to not do so would have left residents trapped and surrounded by the floodwater. The evacuated residents made their way to homes of friends and family.

There were about 10 elevated residences along Pine Street that were evacuated because of the rising water, according Soldiers Grove Village President Steve George. Those residents were housed in the Country Garden Motel. All of the Pine Street residents have returned to their houses.

The most damaged house in the village was probably the Roth House, a bed and breakfast on Pine Street. Steve George indicated this week that the Roths were still weighing their options on the future of restoring the house, which experienced extensive damage to the first floor.

On the other side of the village, were two of village’s newer residents, Megan Swenson and her husband, who had just bought a house on Highway 131 next to the river. As they rode out the flood on Tuesday night with their two dogs, they could see the floodwater increasing.

Megan’s husband was waking every half hour and checking on the situation. Finally, the couple fell asleep. When they awoke at 3:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Megan’s husband went out to find the waters had risen and they could not get out. They and their dogs were eventually rescued by Soldiers Grove and Boscobel firefighters in boats.

At one point as they sat trapped in the house by the floodwater, Megan shared a positive message for her husband.

“We have our fur babies and each other and that’s all that matters,” she told him. The couple has two large dogs–a German shepherd and a German shepherd-husky mix.

Steve George emphasized the damage was much less severe than Gays Mills. And the real damage was largely to the road surface adjacent to the park and the ball field. The gazebo was knocked out and there was extensive damage to equipment in the park.

“There was a lot more force (to the flood) than in 2008,” the village president noted.

While the 2008 flood broke the dike that surrounds the baseball diamond outfield, this flood simply overtopped the dike. The dike is intact.

Up the river in Readstown, the flood caused a lot more problems. Things happened quickly for the village from about 10 p.m. Tuesday into the early morning hours of Wednesday. Before it was over, 40 people had been evacuated just after midnight on Wednesday morning. The Sugar Grove Church opened up to receive some of the evacuees, according to Readstown Police Chief Tim Gratz.

Five people were sheltered including one at Peace Lutheran Church, according tot Readstown Village Clerk Sue Mueller.

Readstown Village President Chad Larson recounted the rising water starting from about 10 p.m. Tuesday night into Wednesday morning.

“I couldn't say when the bridge (on Highway 14) closed,” Larson said recalling the events on Thursday. “Water went where it normally goes, except it was much higher.”

There was a fair amount of damage, but village officials couldn’t be sure of the extent of that damage until a building inspector took a look at them.

There were some bright notes to the disastrous situation that beset Readstown. Larson noted that the village never lost power and was able to get power shut off to the affected customers.

Larson was also pleasantly surprised to learn Thursday that the pumps at the sewer plant were still on and working hard.

The low-lying Readstown Advancement Building saw as much as six feet of water in the building.

Readstown Village Clerk Sue Mueller cited the significance of the cooperation of village officials in coordinating the flood efforts.

“It was very important for the village to get the board, the fire department and EMS together right away. We moved stuff in the park and prevented a lot of damage by preparation.”

In all three communities, fire departments used boats in some cases to remove residents from flooded houses. There was also lots of praise everywhere for the work not only of the local first responders, but for the efforts of citizen volunteers who helped at the moment of the flood and have continued to help with cleanup and recovery efforts.

Gays Mills Village President Harry Heisz said he was overwhelmed by the amount of work the volunteers were doing in the village. Heisz was also impressed by the heavy work young people had taken on in the recovery effort.