GAYS MILLS (WKOW) – Evacuated residents in Gays Mills are beginning their return to homes with flooded basements and other water issues.
The Crawford County community’s downtown was swamped by flood waters a decade ago, but emergency responders and long-time residents say current conditions are the most extreme they’ve seen with the rain-swollen Kickapoo River at more than twenty-two feet above flood stage.
Mayor Harry Heisz says flood waters have begun to recede. Heisz says people are allowed to go back to flood-impacted homes if the property is stable and there are no major power or water issues. He says damage has been more widespread than what took place in the flooding of 2008.
"Houses off foundations," Heisz says. "It’s just a mess."
Ralph and Ruth Lomas were taken by a Gays Mills firefighter’s boat through several feet of water to return to their downtown home Thursday.
"I know I’m going to find a mess in the basement," Ralph Lomas says. "The main floor is dry."
"They got no power right now," Heisz says. "But they’re elderly, they wanted to be back home, they feel comfortable," he says. "We’ll make things work for them if we have to do generators, whatever we got to do to make life easier," Heisz says.
Ten years ago, the then-epic flooding in Gays Mills led a portion of the community to relocate to higher ground. But Lomas says he’s intending to stay put in his downtown home.
Heisz says the possibility of more relocation will again be discussed.
"I hate to see my downtown go," he says. "But we do need to get some of these homes out of the danger zone."
At a vantage point on a highway above the low lying community, Chris Evans takes photos of his grandfather’s house that’s surrounded by water. Evans says his grandparents were evacuated and are staying in a mobile home at a nearby campground. As they await their return to the home, which also served as a repair shop, Evans prepared to help his grandfather.
"Get the garage cleaned out, get my grandpa’s business going again, and help him get back on his feet," Evans says.
At Lomas’ downtown residence, even the prospect of waiting for the return of utilities fails to diminish his satisfaction with he and his wife’s return.
"There’s no place like home," he says.