We Work Together or We Don’t Work at All

Late Wednesday the rain started and when it stopped downtown Arcadia was flooded.

At about 4 am Thursday morning, civil defense sirens sounded. The mayor declared a state of emergency.  Three hundred and forty three homes and businesses were damaged. One thousand people were evacuated.

Around 11 am I received a call from General Dunbar, the head of Wisconsin Military Affairs, assuring me the Governor instructed him to use all available resources to assist in the disaster.

By midday the Governor declared a state of emergency.  Responders rescued flood victims with boats from the Department of Natural Resources.  And officials brought in the National Guard.

Guard members assisted with rescue and staffed check points.  They deployed equipment to assist with evacuation.  The Guard sent four cases of MREs, potable water and a heavy equipment wrecker.

The Red Cross opened an evacuation center at Arcadia National Guard Armory. Over 20,000 sand bags from Wisconsin Military Affairs were filled by a sandbagging machine from Camp Douglas. Hundreds of Ashley Furniture employees assisted with sandbagging and other relief efforts.

Early Thursday morning brought reports of rain totals and widespread damage. Blair had five inches of rain and water in the downtown. Clark County officials activated their emergency plan for the Hatfield dam. Water rushed over the Pigeon Falls dam. Highways were closed across the Senate District.

By nightfall Thursday the Grove area in Black River Falls was evacuated and an emergency shelter was set up at the United Methodist Church. The National Guard deployed sandbags to Osseo and Neillsville.

The rain continued Friday morning. I checked with Pierce County officials who reported local flooding and water in basements.  While the Rush River was at its banks, it did not cause extensive damage.

But the Hatfield dam was at Red Alert Condition - meaning all gates were open. Levels on Lake Arbutus continued to rise. Sandbaggers worked to protect the municipal power plant. Durand and Eau Claire prepared for high water on the Chippewa while the Black River reached record flood levels.

I spent much of Friday working through the bureaucracy to find assistance for Arcadia. Mobile pumps were needed. Local leaders were concerned about the integrity of the levies protecting the city as we scrambled to learn when the water would crest.

I discovered DNR keeps a monitoring station for the Trempealeau River at Dodge - downstream from Arcadia. After many phone calls, a DNR hydrologist was dispatched to assist in calculating the storm surge and an engineer specialized in evaluating dams, dikes and levies was sent to Arcadia.

We breathed a sigh of relief Friday afternoon when it became clear the river had crested and the sand bags and levies held (for the most part.)  Most of the damage in Arcadia resulted from two creeks that overflowed their banks sending water down County Highway J into the city. Fortunately, the levies protecting the city and Ashley Furniture from the swollen Trempealeau River held.

Reality settled in on Saturday when families returned home to find mud, debris and damaged appliances. Meat and frozen goods were spoiled. Cars were damaged. Basement walls crumbled.

Folks for years will be telling the stories of the floods of 2010. It is my hope people will write and share the many of the tales of heroism.

I thank all those whose quick action saved lives and property: the first responders, EMTs, firefighters, National Guard, law enforcement officers and emergency personnel - many who came as volunteers or under mutual aid from other communities and counties.

Special thanks to the many volunteers who came to assist those in need and to those sending donations of money, food, clothing and cleaning supplies for flood victims.

Quiet strength, calm leadership and wise decision-making was shown by many local leaders especially Trempealeau County Sheriff Rich Anderson and Arcadia’s Mayor John Kimmel.

In times of crisis we learn many lessons - particularly the importance of working together.

One of the hard-working Arcadia aldermen said it best, “Everybody seemed to just jell and really work together. We work together or we don’t work at all.”