Rising water in Darlington threatens roads, basements

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DARLINGTON (WKOW) — As snow melts and rain continues to fall, water is on the rise in Darlington, already impacting a few buildings where people say flooding has never been a factor before.

According to Lafayette County Emergency Management Director Theresa Burgess, the community is used to riverside flooding. As recently as October they had to close the bridge and surrounding roads due to high water but she said it doesn’t typically happen this often.

“That was pretty unique to have an October close like that and to have that kind of flooding so it feels like it just happened,” Burgess said.

At this point, Burgess said they know the drill: Close the bridge if the river hits 15 feet and get signs ready to close other nearby roads. She said the city’s done a lot of work to mitigate flood impact around the riverside. Unfortunately Burgess said water has been finding another way to cause damage.

“We had people that have never had water in their basements and they’re calling and they have furnace damage and stuff like that because they weren’t prepared for such an event,” she said.

Reverend Craig Simenson said Grace Lutheran Church is one of those places.

“This afternoon at 1:00 we were just dealing with damp carpets and at this point several hours later we have puddles of standing water,” he said. “It’s not clear that the water’s done coming in.”

The church was supposed to host the community’s first Lenten meal and service Wednesday night but instead, they had to move it to the United Methodist Church while they cleaned up.

Simenson believes the water is seeping in from behind the basement door. In his four years at the church, he said they’ve never had issues with flooding and his congregation said they hadn’t heard of it before now.

“My wife and I live in an apartment close to the river so we’re accustomed to flooding there and seeking higher ground, but we’re on higher ground here,” he said.

Simenson thinks it’s the snowmelt seeping into the basement because the ground is still frozen and there’s nowhere for it to go. Unfortunately because it’s never happened before, he said the place doesn’t have flood insurance.

“It’s going to be a step back for us,” he said.

The timing is also difficult for Simenson personally.

“When this kind of thing happens, this is when a pastor’s role becomes really important,” he said.

Next week is his last at Grace Lutheran Church. He’s moving to Minneapolis but as the parish begins the cleanup process he hopes it means they’ll be in good hands.

“People are volunteering to help clean up not only today but to offer whatever support they can tomorrow and the days to come,” Simenson said.

To prevent and mitigate home flooding, Burgess recommends clearing snow away from your home and making sure there’s a clear path to and from any drains.

The Pecatonica River is expected to crest Thursday afternoon just below moderate flood stage at 15 ft. and Simenson hopes that’s when the worst of the city’s flooding will be over.

Michelle Alfini

Michelle Alfini

Reporter, WKOW

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