Sunday, May 31, 2020
The Al and Annie Wells farm in Leon was hit hard by flood waters Thursday.

The Deluge

Emergency personnel stretched thin combating flood's aftermath

Flood waters from over seven inches of rain in western and southern Monroe County experienced last Wednesday and Thursday have receded but residents are still cleaning up in some of the harder hit areas.

Gov. Scott Walker flew into Ontario on Monroe County's southern border Friday morning before threatening weather cut short a tour of  that flood ravaged area, where canoe liveries on the Kickapoo River and some of the village's business were underwater the day before.

The Kickapoo River's flood waters crested at 21.1 feet in Ontario on Thursday, just shy of the record breaking 2007 flood, when its waters rose to 22 feet.

Walker declared a state of emergency in 17 counties, including Vernon, Monroe, La Crosse, Jackson and Crawford.

In Monroe County, the Sparta and Leon areas took the brunt of the flood damage, keeping the Sparta Fire Department busy for nearly 20 hours straight.

Sparta Fire Chief Mike Arnold said his department began responding to storm related calls at 3 a.m. Thursday, when firefighters were dispatched to Fantail Avenue off Highway 27 north of Sparta.

He said his crew had to help evacuate a family from their house, which was taking on water. Firefighters were able to rescue a mother, three small children and a dog.

While on Fantail Avenue, firefighters also responded to the first of many incidents, involving trees blown onto power lines, they would encounter over the course of the next few days.

Vernon, Jackson and Oakdale electric cooperatives had crews out dealing with downed lines that created sporadic power outages during the storm.

At 4:29 a.m., Sparta firefighters responded to the report of a tree down on a power line on Cty. Hwy. X in the town of Wells. Arnold said they were about a quarter mile up the road when they encountered a flooded roadway and a torrential downpour forcing them to turn back.

At 7:54 a.m., the department was called to assist with evacuating residents from Long Court and South Water Street in Sparta, where flood waters from the La Crosse River were four to five feet deep.

Firefighters donned wet suits and used the department's new rescue boat to get residents to dry land. Many of the flood victims went to friends or relatives homes but the Sparta Barney Community Center had been set up as a shelter for residents with no place else to go.

Arnold said it was a voluntary evacuation and only one person said they would "ride it out."

The fire department then headed to Leon, where rising flood waters were lifting liquid propane tanks off their footings and threatening to carry them away. Arnold said firefighters used the rescue boat to help secure the tanks to houses.

In one of the most bizarre rescues of the day, the Sparta Fire Department was called to the area of Icon Avenue and Icebox Road, which Arnold said was completely underwater. There, at around 11 a.m., they encountered two horses, which were up to their necks in water and struggling.

Firefighters had to enter the area via Interstate 90 along the access road to the new weigh station being constructed. Arnold said water was eight to 10 feet deep and firemen used the rescue boat to coax the horses to dry ground.

One of the horses got loose in the eastbound lane of the interstate, which emergency personnel closed off for about 15 minutes until the animal was captured. Both horses were turned over to the Monroe County Humane Officer who had a local veterinarian check them over.

Later in the day, the fire department rescued a doe and her fawn, which were stuck in flood water near Jack Pine Avenue.

Firefighters returned to Leon in the afternoon where a motorist was stranded in flood water near the intersection of Jaeger and Jameson roads. Arnold said the motorist was sitting on his car hood and firemen were able to get him to dry ground.

Arnold said officials were considering evacuating Leon but flood waters started to recede by then, precluding the need.

Arnold and his crew were then dispatched to Lamplighter Road in the Town of Wells, where the road had been washed out and Tim McCarthy, 60, of Melvina drove off the road and struck a tree.

Arnold said McCarthy wasn't injured and refused medical treatment but his car was extensively damaged.

Fire personnel then went to assist in a voluntary evacuation of Ibex Road and Hammer Avenue on Sparta’s south side, which were being threatened by flood waters from the La Crosse River. Arnold said his crew was there from 2-4:30 p.m., encouraging residents to leave.

"Some people left and some people said they were going to ride it out," he said.

The department also set up a fire truck to pump water away from the Morrow Home, where the flooding La Crosse River and Beaver Creek threatened the lower floors. Arnold said nursing home personnel evacuated the first floor of the building.

Meanwhile, Xcel Energy crews sandbagged the substation near the Perch Lake dam in an effort to keep flood waters from damaging equipment in its buildings.

Evans-Bosshard Park was almost completely underwater, inundating the Rotary building, which volunteers were cleaning out over the weekend.

Fire Department Personnel and the Monroe County Emergency Management Director were out Sunday assessing flood damage.

As of Friday, several roads had been closed, including Lamplighter Road. Market Road by Marjoram Road, Nett Avenue by Nebraska Avenue, Lamb Avenue, Omnibus Road, Mercury Avenue by Cty. Hwy. U, Cty. Hwy. N, Cty. Hwy. ET and Optic Road.

The DNR also closed several recreational areas until it could assess damage, including portions of the Elroy-Sparta State Bicycle Trail and all horse trails at Wildcat Mountain State Park.

The Monroe County Health Department is warning people with private wells in flood areas to take precautions because their wells could have become contaminated.

County health officer Sharon Nelson recommends the following:

•Private well owners who are concerned that their well has been contaminated, should immediately stop drinking it or using it for cooking and preparing food.

•Switch to a known safe source of water such as bottled water. If you can’t access a safe source of drinking water, boil your water for five minutes at a rolling boil before using it.

•Signs that a well may be affected by a flood include: Floodwaters come into contact or run over the top of a well; you notice changes in the taste, smell, or color of the water; and you live near areas that have been flooded

Nelson said well owners should wait until flood waters recede to test their water. Monroe County Health Department has sampling bottles available for pick-up.  Sampling bottles can be dropped off at the La Crosse County Health Department Laboratory. Samples are accepted Monday through Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Tests for bacteria tests are $26, nitrates are $26.

Do not drink your water until you know it is safe, said Nelson.


Evans Print & Media Group

1302 River Rd.
P.O. Box 252

Sparta, WI 54656-0252

Office Number: (608) 269-3186
Fax Number: (608) 269-6876


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