I was in the middle of the flooding of the Root River in Racine Wisconsin. It was a very surreal experience. On Sunday night the water was rising in the river. Areas of Oak Creek, Franklin and the Town of Raymond had received 12 inches of rain in a single storm. All of the rain there drained into the Root River.
For hours the neighbors and I watched as the root river slowly began to rise and over flow its banks. First to go was Lincoln and Island parks. Followed by Spring Street. Neighbors were removing everything frantically from their basements as the water was inching slowly closer and closer. I have water coming through the concrete in the basement floor! it's bubbling up the paint! I dry it up with a towel and I decide to check the downspout extensions outside. Both of them blew off with all the water. I put them back on and the floor doesn't get any wetter. The rain is falling harder than I have ever seen. I worry about my shingles.
Down by Spring Street the City Department of Public Works arrived. They were wading in knee deep water and tried hooking up a 4 inch pump to force the water down a storm sewer that drained the other way to Lake Michigan. It was painfully obvious this wasn't going to do anything. We watched as the water inched up the curb, then up to the sidewalk, then up to the stop sign, then to the fire hydrant. It was rising at more than 2 inches an hour.
At midnight, One of my neighbors, Dave and I were frantically trying to clear storm sewer grates on Luedtke Avenue to no avail. We'd get them clear and a whirlpool would form and we'd move to the next one. We found a few that didn't drain since the water was still rising. A strong current was beginning to flow down the street.
We gave up at trying to clear the drains, the water was rising and what we were doing wasn't making a difference. I went into my basement and began moving things up.
At about 2 AM I was still watching the street fill up and finally got the nerve to pound on the other neighbors' doors. I had to get them up to move their cars because in minutes the water would be above the bottom of their doors. Luckily they all got up and drove their cars to higher ground. The water still was rising.
At about 3 AM the fire department showed up banging on the doors. They were evacuating the residents of the neighborhood. The neighbors across the street now had to wade in ankle deep water flowing very fast with kids and pets in tow. After a while they came to my door. My house is on higher ground than any other on my street -by the slightest amount. I also had a way to get out through the back yard. When they asked me to evacuate, I responded "Is this a mandatory evacuation?" They said no.
I tried to lay down at 5 AM. I just barely drifted to sleep when I was awoke by a series of loud diesel engines. The fire department had arrived again. This time they also brought a truck with boat on it. The water had risen higher still. They drove the boat, still on the trailer to the homes they were evacuating closer to the river. Then drove everyone out on the boat still on the trailer.
The water now covered the street curb to curb. The current had to be flowing at about 20 knots. We now have white water in the street. Large logs are floating by. The water is still rising up the curb on to the parkway. It seems to be rising slower now, but still going up.
Now this is interesting, Here comes a news van. It's Channel 7, WLS the ABC affiliate from Chicago parked on the street on the side of my house. They even have their HD equipment. Channel 7 proceeds to set up shot in my neighbors yard. It's a weird thing to turn the TV on and see your house on it live.
People are beginning to come into the neighborhood to see what's going on. A trickle at first slowly building up to a torrent of people. The water is flowing so fast in front of my house. It's now over the sidewalk. What started as a few neighbors has turned in to a circus of disaster tourists.
The ground is getting mushy around my house. The level of the water in the trap of the basement floor drain has risen 2 inches. I'm getting concerned. Other neighbors aren't doing so well. Basements are filling up floor drains are backing up. Down the street the water is coming in their basement windows. This is a very curious mix of emotions I'm feeling. Fear worry and a little of the disaster watcher too. There isn't anything I can do anyway.
About 9 or so, my coworker, also a city alderman stops by with his camera. Expecting a little water he was amazed at what was happening. I came out to talk with him, and it was getting to be a little surreal outside. There are people all over the place. Helicopters and light planes are swarming above.
The gas company came. They shut off the gas at the meter. Just in case the water rises and snuffs the pilot lights and theres a bad thermal coupler I suppose. The last thing I need is a fire in the middle of the flood. They aren't turning off the electricity. If they did that hundreds of pumps would grind to a halt, only if you ask will they shut it off. I didn't ask.
A while later the Mayor stops by and before he can get a few feet from his car channel 7 corners him for an interview. This is nuts! Large crowds of people swarm in waves. The Red Cross also shows up with bags of potato chips. Meanwhile the DPW and Fire Departments are doing their various jobs and volunteers are stacking sandbags in front of Lutheran High School and some of the houses.
I decide to walk down the street... I get a chance to see all the fence posts leaning different directions as the ground was soaked. There is the STS satellite van and there's channel 58 WDJT the CBS affiliate from Milwaukee and newspaper photographers are running up and down. If I didn't already know who the reporters were it'd be hard to identify them, everyone has a video camera a SLR fancy camera or at least a cellphone camera. I keep thinking to myself... Ok, do not be the guy on TV who says "I didn't know it was going to rain" -- Avoid the news media.
I come home and turn on the news on tv... There's Gus Gnorski on channel 6 WITI the FOX affiliate in Milwaukee standing on the other side of island park on Liberty street. Looks bad there. Also some pictures of Riverside drive... it appears they are the repository of all the logs swiftly swept down and off of Luedtke.
People I know are stopping by to see me. Thank God someone brought me a bag from McDonalds. I couldn't leave if I wanted to. It isn't the flood blocking me in it's the traffic, the emergency response vehicles and the tourists.
There's a knock on my door and a woman calling my name. It's my alderwoman. She is amazed at all the happenings and appalled at the goings on. Children of all ages playing in the swift current... some trying to swim some on bikes some on rafts and canoes. It's a real circus now... Anyone wanna beer? $25.00! She asks to borrow my cellphone and calls the police department to have them come down and bring some order. There are also fears of the dam upstream and she calls the County emergency manager to find out the truth. The dam is fine.
The cavalry has arrived! The police department, including my cousin show up to clear the area. They're kicking everyone out except residents and news media. They are putting up barricades on Dombrowski and Wickham. It takes about an hour and a half to get all the spectators out of the area. There had to be in excess of 10,000 people down here. It was kind of nice being the center of attention for a while, but it had to stop. People would have gotten hurt.
Now here comes Channel 9, WGN out of Chicago. It's already 7 and they want to get this together by the 9 o'clock news. Good luck. Oh I'm trapped! They got me. I guess I am going to be on the news after all. Well I talked about the flood and the school and tried not to be the guy who didn't know it could rain.
The water is still flowing fast. There's some idiot on a jet ski too. The river may have crested I don't know. As night falls I try to convince myself the water has gone down some but it hasn't. The police explorer scouts show up to relieve some of the officers checking ID at the road block in my neighborhood. I know them too through the Volunteer Center and Ham Radio.
I try to sleep. I even get some tonight. But at like 6:00 more diesel engines. The Fire Department is back and black smoke is pouring out of a neighbors chimney. Turns out the furnace went funny but no real concern. Now we have the smell of fuel oil in the neighborhood. The water has gone down a little too! It looks like the worst may be over.
Throughout the day the DPW is bringing 3 and 4 inch pumps to get water out of basements. It takes about 90 minutes to get the full ones drained. The water level goes down but the current stays swift. Unlike other flooded areas, Luedtke avenue is really clean now. The water was moving so fast we didn't get the mud in the street. The water even cleaned all the oil stains off of the pavement. The concrete has a yellow hue to it now.
You know it's a real pain to cook without gas. I learned scrambled eggs actually can be made in the microwave. As lunch came around the gas was still off and I was getting hungry. Pizza Hut took a pass on getting by my house, but Dominos saved the day. I do not know how the guy navigated his way through the blocked and flooded streets but they seemed happy about being able to help. I got 3 pizzas and bread sticks and shared them with some of the neighbors.
I could have had it worse. I do have some damage but I didn't get my basement filled to the top. My fence didn't take it well neither did my side porch. I didn't get outright flooded but It's definitely very damp in the basement. Some things aren't going to make it and will need to be thrown out. I'm still worried about how the sidewalk is going to move as the ground dries up and the possibilities of sinkholes. The ham shack and computers are in complete disarray and the Internet is still down most of the time.
See pictures of the flood http://av.wi.net/Floodof08