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Officials: Swollen Wis. river should drop rapidly (UPDATE)

Buildings sit partially underwater in the Blackhawk area southeast of Portage on Monday. (AP Photo/Portage Daily Register, Jen McCoy)

Buildings sit partially underwater in the Blackhawk area southeast of Portage on Monday. (AP Photo/Portage Daily Register, Jen McCoy)

By TODD RICHMOND
Associated Press Writer

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The swollen Wisconsin River should recede dramatically over the next day or so, giving an isolated rural neighborhood a chance to recover from three days of flooding, authorities said Tuesday.

The Wisconsin River was expected to drop by 3 feet over the next 24 hours after peaking Monday at 20.6 feet. On Saturday, floodwater began surging around a mile-and-half-long sand dike into low-lying areas of the Blackhawk Park neighborhood in Caledonia, just across the river from the city of Portage.

Emergency officials warned people to evacuate Sunday but had no firm count of how many people had left. Columbia County Emergency Management Director Pat Beghin didn’t immediately return a message left for him Tuesday morning.

The century-old dike, little more than a long, grass-covered hill, runs for about 14 miles. It separates the town of Caledonia and the Pine River Wildlife Area from the river.

Chuck Vesely, who lives on the banks of the Wisconsin River, checks his basement for flooding on Monday in Portage, Wis. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

Chuck Vesely, who lives on the banks of the Wisconsin River, checks his basement for flooding on Monday in Portage, Wis. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

The dike hasn’t given way, but floodwater is seeping through it, state Department of Natural Resources spokesman Greg Matthews said. DNR workers plan to watch for erosion on the river side as the water drops away quickly, he said. Fast-moving water could take pieces of the dike with it.

“We would prefer that the river drop more gradually, at a lower rate per day to avoid further damage to an already saturated structure. Nevertheless, we will try to handle whatever nature deals us,” Matthews said.

Portions of the upper Midwest have seen severe flooding over the past few days as heavy rains moved through the region.

Federal and state officials assessed damage in southern Minnesota on Tuesday. Minnesota Department of Public Safety spokesman Doug Neville said four teams from FEMA and the state Division of Homeland Security Emergency Management planned to visit homeowners in eight counties. They hope to compile a damage report by the end of the week.

In Wisconsin, much of the attention has focused on the dike, built in the 1890s to protect farmland. Today most of it serves as a divider between the wildlife area and the river, with the far western end running along Blackhawk Park.

The dike has sprung more than a dozen leaks since flooding began, but most of them were little more than a trickle and DNR workers sandbagged them shut.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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