Flooding intensifies in Fond du Lac as rush hour passes; more residents evacuated
West Johnson Street flooding FDL Reporter
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FOND DU LAC - When rush hour hit Fond du Lac's main thoroughfare Thursday, floodwaters weren't far behind.
As ice jams that caused floods earlier in the day were cleared from the eastern branch of the Fond du Lac River, floodwaters rushed north, in search of Lake Winnebago.
The flooding shut down Johnson Street on both sides of the bridge — the city's main east/west vein — and people were rescued by boat in the area of Arndt Street at Lincoln, Saterlee and Bell streets. As water rose, the police barricades crept further and further west, all the way past the corner of Seymour and Johnson streets, and more people needed rescue.
City Manager Joe Moore drove through the city about 5 p.m. Thursday and said emergency responders were diligently working in partnership with Alliant Energy to help people in need.
Meanwhile, portions of downtown that flooded earlier in the day were drying out, and a sump pump at the YMCA poured water out into the street. Water at Fruth Athletic Field on West Ninth Street had also receded.
Rapid snowmelt from a 58-degree day, an ice-covered river, and an afternoon downpour combined to make things worse Thursday afternoon.
“The snowmelt is incredible right now,” Moore said. “The river just south of Second Street — the elevation of the water is at bottom of the bridge.”
Moore said recovery efforts Friday will begin with assessing property damage and getting people back into their homes. Making sure the city’s water system is safe will also be a priority, he said.
'It got worse'
Jennifer Lopez, 18, along with her two younger brothers and their dad, hopped out of the cab of a dump truck that took them from their home near Johnson and Seymour streets. They didn’t bring much with them other than some blankets and important papers.
"At least we’re here; that’s all we care about — that we’re here and safe. … We’ve been through this in 2008, but this one is another level,” Lopez said.
“We thought it would eventually calm down, but it got worse.”
That’s what made things tricky for emergency responders, as they started going door to door, evacuating residents who hadn’t done so earlier in the day, Fond du Lac County sheriff Ryan Waldschmidt said. Another challenge is the icy conditions — a major difference from the floods in 2008.
“There’s no controlling the ice; it’s just Mother Nature at work,” Waldschimdt said. “When there’s ice or other solid things that water can’t flow through, it gets diverted in ways we’ve never seen before.”
Fond du Lac Fire Chief Pete O’Leary was at a command post Thursday evening set up by Fond du Lac County Emergency Management. He said Alliant Energy shut off gas and electric to 850 customers located in flooded areas.
“We have quite a few mutual aid companies helping, but right now people are still being rescued so I can’t put a number of how many we have rescued at this point,” he said.
At least 100 people were placed in shelters by noon, but that number continued to rise Thursday night as calls from stranded people just kept coming in.
Flooding began early Thursday
When Sandy Vanden Hoogen was told Thursday morning to evacuate her apartment on Western Avenue, the only things she took with her were bottles of Pepsi and her tuxedo cat, Oreo.
Flooding forced Vanden Hoogen and more than 100 residents to evacuate from Riverview Apartments. The building, at 101 Western Ave., borders the west side of the Fond du Lac River. Ice jams at the river's bridges early in the morning — in concert with frozen ground, rainwater and melting snow — caused the water level to rise south of the bridge. Flooding quickly overtook roadways, parking lots and backyards.
Boats were brought in to get people to safety in some areas, Fond du Lac Fire/Rescue Division Chief Troy Haase said.
At around 8:20 a.m., first responders told John Alton, who also lives in the apartment, he needed to leave. He and other residents boarded a school bus with their belongings and headed to Fond du Lac County Fairgrounds' Recreation Center, where the Red Cross set up a temporary shelter.
South of the apartments, Brady Michels and his wife, Shylough, awoke Thursday morning when their roommate told them they might need to evacuate.
Only a road separates their home from the ice-filled river. From the kitchen window, they could see a sinkhole at the end of their driveway. Their car wouldn't be able to get past it. In the other direction, they saw Fruth Athletic Field, also underwater.
Soon, the evacuation turned mandatory as Fond du Lac Fire/Rescue told them they had to leave and their utilities were being shut off. Until allowed back, they will stay with family.
“Fond du Lac floods every once in a while. We’re by a big lake. There’s rivers running through the whole city," Michels said. "Flooding isn’t really a big deal, but when you see a sinkhole blocking your driveway and a fire marshal telling you need to get out, that’s concerning."
Along with Michels' house and the apartments, other homes in the area of Elm and Oak streets — between Western Avenue and South Street — were also evacuated earlier in the day, O'Leary said.
Evacuations continued into the afternoon as water levels rose and the flooded area expanded to included portions of Macy Street and Military Road "adjacent to the river," according to a tweet from the city.
"If you know someone who lives in this area, check on them," O'Leary told a USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin reporter Thursday morning.
Fond du Lac flash flooding on Arndt Street FDL Reporter
Ice jam started just after 4 a.m.
The first report of an ice jam was at 4:20 a.m. when emergency management reported an ice jam causing urban and small stream flooding around the city, according to a flood advisory from the National Weather Service in Milwaukee.
It also caused flooding near the West Second Street bridge, with flooding continuing upstream, the advisory stated.
Backhoes were positioned along bridges, where they could reach down into the river below and bring ice up for loading into dump trucks. The ice was hauled to an empty parking lot near the fairgrounds.
Terry Drake at Dreifuerst & Sons Moving & Storage on Macy and Second streets said she watched Thursday morning as the city loaded dump trucks with ice hauled out of the river. Their south parking lot was flooded, she said, and they moved their vehicles to dry ground.
Fond du Lac emergency crews deal with flooding due to ice jams on Fond du Lac River. FDL Reporter
Red Cross offers shelter
Residents in need of long-term shelter arrived at Fond du Lac Community Church Thursday morning, but that site was near capacity around 7 p.m., said Bob Mayer, the Red Cross disaster program manager.
About 80 people, mostly residents of the 101 Western Ave. apartment building, were preparing to spend the night at the church, Mayer said. The Red Cross moved these residents from the recreation center at the Fond du Lac County Fairgrounds to the church Thursday morning.
Mayer and Community Church volunteers will not turn away additional people if they arrive, but they may run out of cots soon, he said around 7 p.m.
A second shelter opened at Harbor Haven Gymnasium, 459 E. First St. according to Emergency Management Director Bobbi Hicken, for those evacuated Thursday evening.
Hicken said updated information on the flooding situations is available by calling 211. Volunteers offered displaced residents to have blankets, cots, meals, health resource access and most likely children's games, said American Red Cross of Wisconsin communications officer Justin Kern.
At Community Church Thursday evening, evacuees had finished dinner and were chatting with each other. The band that plays at Sunday services was practicing its music, entertaining the children.
Earlier the church held more families, said Andy Dudley, the executive administrator for the church. Many families found places to stay by late evening, and the activity in the shelter had calmed down.
Hicken asked Thursday evening for those who can remain in their homes or stay with someone to do so, as the shelters are experiencing a “huge influx” of people, she said.
High water not limited to downtown Fond du Lac
Flooding was also reported in northeast portions of the city. The basement of a fire/rescue member who lives on Scott Street filled with four feet of water, Haase said. Another person was rescued after driving into deep water on Whispering Springs Drive.
University of Wisconsin-Fond du Lac closed two parking lots due to flooding and sent an alert to students and employees to avoid these areas and use caution, said spokeswoman Mandy Potts. Classes remained in session.
Friday could bring a mix of rain and snow until about 8 p.m., with temperatures dipping back down to 36 degrees. Sunny skies are expected back on Saturday.