Floodwaters threaten Wis. homes
River overflows banks, leaving levee weakened
PORTAGE, Wis. — Floodwaters from the burgeoning Wisconsin River turned a rural neighborhood into a virtual island yesterday, cutting off dozens of homes from the outside world.
The river was seeping through and surging around a levee protecting the Blackhawk Park neighborhood in the town of Caledonia just southeast of Portage. The only road in was covered by nearly a foot of rust-colored water.
A few homes in the neighborhood’s low-lying areas were surrounded by water, but most stood on high ground and remained untouched yesterday afternoon.
Emergency workers asked people to leave on Sunday as the river began to rise after last week’s heavy rains. About 75 of the neighborhood’s 300 residents chose to stay in their homes, however, said Pat Beghin, Columbia County emergency management director.
Beghin said the worst-case scenario was that water could wash away the access road, stranding those residents for up to a week.
A century-old earthen dike, part of a 14-mile berm, separates Portage and the neighborhood from the river. But the river rose so high and so forcefully it surged around the dike and poured into the bottom lands around the neighborhood, said Steve Miller, director of the state Department of Natural Resources Bureau of Facilities and Lands.
The rising water chipped away at portions of the berm system yesterday afternoon. State workers patrolled the length of the berm, using sandbags to control the seepage.
In South Dakota, water levels in the storm-bloated Big Sioux River were stable yesterday after up to 4 inches of rain last week pushed the waterway over its banks along a 50-mile stretch from Brookings to Sioux Falls.
About two dozen homes in Renner, the worst-hit town, were affected by the rare autumnal flood, Renner Fire Chief Mike Schmitz said.
The Wisconsin River runs along the outskirts of Portage, a city of about 10,000 people some 40 miles north of Madison that touts itself as “Where the North Begins.’’ The river had overflowed its banks by dozens of feet, pouring onto low-lying roads.
Weather Service hydrologist Bryan Hahn said the river reached a record level of 20.59 feet yesterday at 6 a.m. That broke a previous record of 20.50 feet, set in 1938.
The river was expected to hold steady through today, Hahn said, then slowly decline over the next seven days. Forecasters expect the weather to remain dry in the area for the rest of the week, although a flood warning remains in effect in Columbia County.
Extreme weather of another sort struck Los Angeles yesterday as a heat wave baked California. The city recorded an all-time record high of 113 degrees shortly after noon, the National Weather Service said. The old record was 112 degrees, on June 26, 1990.