Northern Wisconsin Residents Juggle Tourists and Flood Recovery

Jul 22, 2016

A deluge of rain slammed northern Wisconsin last week, washing out roads, bridges and damaging people’s homes - and during prime tourism season. Yet resorts there hope vacationers don’t change their plans.

“They are concerned about economic losses up there, because of the flooding,” according to Lori Getter of the Wisconsin Emergency Operations Center.

Getter says some roadways remain closed, but there are workarounds, so call ahead.

"(Conditions are) changing hourly, because everyone is working hard to get those roads open,” Getter says.

One place to learn about detours, is on the state web site: 5-1-1 Wisconsin.

Getter says engineers are assessing the damage, and next week, federal crews will arrive. While the government focuses on damaged infrastructure in the far north, there is also the human side to the flooding. Barbara Behling of the Red Cross is helping people deal with personal losses.

“Some of the kids are playing outside like nothing happened. Some of the children are upset because they lost their pets and their favorite toys, and they know that something is making mom and dad upset," said Behling.

We reached Behling while she was on the Bad River Reservation, one place where flooding took a toll on people’s homes.

“You can see how high the water line was from the outside which is always a brownish-gray. If that’s on the outside of the home, it probably is on the inside of the home as well. And you can just imagine how your furniture is ruined, your walls, your floor - anything that was really on the main or the lower level. It’s all destroyed because of the water," said Behling.

Behling says the immediate priorities are to give people food, a place to stay and money to replace things.

But volunteers are also hustling to clean homes from the water and muck that rushed in, so mold doesn’t grow.

Then there’s tending emotional needs.

"We’re listening to them. We’re hearing their story and we’re helping them channel the energy they have left and helping them really cope with the trauma that is hitting them," said Behling.

Licensed mental health professionals have also arrived.

One additional challenge some volunteers face – their cell phones don’t work there.

“You know, people come up here to get away from all the technology. So we went to WalMart and bought an old-fashioned flip phone and a local plan. So for $20, I think we have a three-day coverage on this phone. So 30 of us up here right now are all using one phone, so we can call out,” said Behling.

Behling says volunteers are also delivering bug spray.