Floodwaters encroach on Portage area

September 6, 2018 GMT

As storms continued to roll through the area Wednesday, damage spread into the Portage area.

One Portage family was outside their East Carroll Street home Wednesday afternoon inspecting damage from a massive tree that fell in their backyard. It crushed a shed and branches punched holes in the tops of the house and the garage.

“We were standing there talking and I heard some weird crackling and felt some slight shaking,” said Sam Horton, who was visiting his in-laws, “and the next thing I know, I see leaves coming by the window: ‘Tree’s coming down! There goes the porch!’”

The tree took out the power and cable for the house, but it was well after the storm had passed, with no lightning or high winds.

The interior of the tree where it broke was blackened, reminding Mike Broome of a tree that had gone down in his yard southwest of Portage, where floodwaters have inundated houses.

“There are six stretches of water covering (Highway) U and spreading,” said Broome. “It’s incredible, and it’s not done.”

On Wednesday morning, Portage police officers and firefighters checked on the extent of flooding and knocked on doors of at-risk residents, particularly in the Blackhawk neighborhood. The forested area, among the lowest lying points around Portage, is accessible only from Highway 33, where Caledonia Street meets Wood Street, leading to Blackhawk Road.

One branch of Caledonia Street was closed with water rushing over, while the other remained open, but with water inching across from the adjacent flooded property.

“What is hurting, is all the rain that was out west that got into the Baraboo River basin,” said Portage Director of Public Works and City Engineer Aaron Jahncke. “We do have some flooding in the Caledonia woods area. That triangle in there, the water is crossing 33 and working its way through that triangle area and there are two homes that are flooded.”

Further into Blackhawk, roads that extend deeper into the area, including the last stretch of Blackhawk Road, have been closed. Most of the main roadway was perfectly clear Wednesday afternoon, though residents were looking at the possibility of being flooded in or out of the neighborhood in short order.

Although the city of Portage has not reached a state of emergency, the Portage Fire Department has been busy. Tuesday night, four firefighters were dispatched with the department’s boat for a water rescue.

At about 9 p.m. the department received its only flood-related emergency call of the past week, when a woman was reported to have swam to the Interstate-39 exit at Highway 33, where she was picked up by a state trooper.

The woman had been canoeing in the area with a man who was left back with the canoe where they had become hung up and stuck about a half mile north.

“We sent four guys in the boat and they went down and located the subject and got him in the boat, but they weren’t able to bring the canoe back,” Fire Chief Clayton Simonson Jr. said. “There’s no way I would jeopardize their lives to save a canoe.”

The Wisconsin River at Portage crested Wednesday and Thursday at 16.42 feet, just below the minor flood stage of 17 feet, according to the National Weather Service. Since Monday, after dropping below 13 feet, the river has been rising again, at 16.4 feet as of Wednesday evening, and expected to crest in well into the moderate flood stage at 18.9 feet on Sunday. The major flood stage begins at 19 feet, with the record set at 20.7 feet.

The Baraboo River has been at flood levels since Aug. 30, cresting well into major flood stage at 24.47 feet on Saturday. It has since receded to a minor flood stage at 20.34 feet on Wednesday, but expected to rise again to 25.5 feet on Saturday, 2.5 feet shy of the record.

Although the National Guard brought sandbags to Interstates 39 and 90/94, Highway 33 has remained open, but the Portage Fire Department, which regularly responds to calls for aid west of the interstates, is preparing contingencies.

“I’ve been in contact with Merrimac, Baraboo and Lake Delton Fire in case it is compromised that we can’t get over to the Caledonia side,” said Simonson.

In that event, Simonson gave departments a heads-up requesting that if Portage is paged, to be ready for a longer response and to contact other departments. The situation is different from the 2008 flood, Simonson explained, since that was caused by a breach.

In either case, for those who were flooded out in 2008, the cost of flood insurance and personal cost of rebuilding is difficult to pay again.

“If I get flooded out again and have to rebuild, I’m not rebuilding — they can have the house — it’s too much; I’m homeless right now,” said Broome, who is staying, with his dog, with Horton. “If it wasn’t for the generosity of this guy, I don’t know what I’d do.”