Residents still stranded after 15 inches of rain in northwest Wis. town
DRUMMOND, Wis.—Drummond in far northwest Wisconsin remained an isolated island among the floodwaters on Tuesday, June 19..
Flooded roads still blocked the routes in or out of town and dozens of residents were still stuck in their homes. And it's going to take more than one river or lake receding for life to return to normal in the flooded town of about 450 residents in Bayfield County.
"The whole countryside's under water. Everything. It's really amazing, the power of this stuff. Wow. You can't fight this guy," said Royden Bloom, town board chairman. "We're going to have to change the terminology, though, this '100-year flood.' We can't say that anymore because we've had three of them in the last six years."
Drummond received more than 15 inches of rain over three days — the highest amount tallied by the National Weather Service during the severe weather event that hit northwestern Wisconsin beginning Friday. Drummond residents were expecting rain, but not 15 inches worth of rain, Bloom said.
"Every time it would start raining again, it was, 'Please, please stop, please, please, please. No more. No more. Can't take any more,'" Bloom said.
In Bayfield County, a few roads have been repaired while damaged roads are still being discovered as the floodwaters have begun to recede in some areas. The trail system in the county is also being inspected and evaluated, with many areas having deep gullies and large holes that are hazardous to users, according to a county statement.
"Most towns throughout the county have reported roads closed due to unsafe conditions. Although the damage is impressive, and there is a temptation to drive to those damaged areas to view and/or photograph, travel on closed roads is not recommended due to unsafe conditions," according to the county's statement.
In Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, nearly 60 miles of Forest Service roads were damaged from the storm. More than 70 Forest Service employees were working to complete initial damage assessments and mobilizing equipment to make emergency repairs to priority roads on Tuesday. The Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center reopened Tuesday after the damaged roads leading to it were repaired.
Neighboring Ashland County missed the brunt of the storm and only had a few road closures due to flooding, according to County Administrator Jeff Beirl.
The water has started to recede in Drummond, which is giving town staff the ability to reach residents who have been stuck in their homes since Saturday due to flooded roads — unless they wanted to boat out of their home. By Tuesday afternoon, they were "on the last leg" of the process to reach the residents with a group of about 30 to 40 people still stranded in their homes near Pigeon Lake west of the town, Bloom said.
"That's our big priority right now, is getting that done, so all of our resources are out there and working to get back to those people," Bloom said.
Some residents have boated their way out and some residents who are elderly have had people bring medications in to them while they wait for roads to become accessible again.
"Everybody is very comfortable, they tell me, out there. I've spoken with them multiple times and everybody seems to be OK, so that's the good thing. We should have access to them by tonight. That's the plan," Bloom said on Tuesday.
Bloom said his concern was the inaccessibile residences on the outskirts of Drummond once the magnitude of the damage began to show itself.
"That's where the washouts occurred so getting to them, getting things fixed — and then of course, you can't really fix anything until the water quits running, so you're kinda in a dilemma," Bloom said.
On Tuesday afternoon, the road that runs north from Drummond to Delta was nearly ready to reopen, which Bloom said will "relieve some of the pressure." U.S. Highway 63 was still closed where it passes Drummond, blocking a connection to U.S. Highway 2. Opening the Drummond Delta Road will allow residents to get on County Road H in Delta, which will connect them to an open stretch of U.S. Highway 2.
Many of the smaller roads around Drummond have been completely wiped out by the flooding and it'll likely take all summer to repair them, Bloom said. He doesn't have a cost estimate yet, but said that Gov. Scott Walker's declaration of a state of emergency helps with some of the funding needed for the repair work.
He urged people to stay off the flooded roads in Drummond. Volunteer firefighters spent a lot of time pulling people out of the water during the storm, but they all understood the situation's severity and pitched in to help, he said.
"It has just been a constant. During the weekend (storm), it was just over and over and over. Every time you turned around, a call's coming in for another one stuck here, another one stuck there," Bloom said. "You don't know how fast that water's flowing underneath there, and can't keep your feet, and off you go."