Walworth County assessing flood damage, hopes for federal help

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Xavier Ward
Friday, July 14, 2017

ELKHORN -- Walworth County authorities are collecting damage reports to determine if the county might qualify for federal assistance.

To qualify for a federal damage evaluation, the county would have to document damage totaling at least $3.61 per resident, or a total of about $373,000, Walworth County Sheriff's Office Lt. John Ennis said.

If that damage threshold is crossed, a federal assessor would look at the needs of affected areas, Ennis said.

Aid would not be administered in a one-size-fits-all program. An assessor could recommend a low-interest loan program or no aid at all. It's too early to tell, Sheriff Kurt Picknell said.

“We're working with Wisconsin Emergency Management to preserve all of those options," Picknell said.

The sheriff's office has set up a hotline for people to report flood damage.

“At this point, there are over 100 homes affected based on the number of calls I've gotten into that hotline,” said Lt. Todd Neumann. “That could be anywhere from driveway washouts to basements completely flooded out and destroyed to minor basement flooding.”

It's too early to have a damage estimate total.

“As time goes on, the numbers are going to change,” Ennis said.

As the water recedes, damage will become more apparent, he said.

It's the beginning of a long process. Contractors will be assessing damage at homes and reporting it to the county, Ennis said.

“When the people come in to fix it, they may say, 'Well, you know, we thought your furnace was salvageable, but now it's going to be $3,000 more because your furnace isn't,'” he said.

Unfortunately for homeowners with damage, private insurance probably won't cover flood damage, Ennis said.

Flood insurance is available only through the federal government to those who live in a flood plain, he said.

“It's something insurance companies don't insure because there's too much of a risk involved,” Ennis said.

Even so, residents with damage should contact their insurance providers, said Wisconsin Insurance Commissioner Ted Nickel.

“No matter what the catastrophe or what the disaster is or what they had happen to their home or even in some cases their auto, they should contact their insurance company or their agent,” he said.

While policies will generally not cover flood damage, there may be programs insurance providers could point clients toward to help, Nickel said.

“Before you just give up, you should try,” he said.

Most important, Nickel said, don't just throw everything away.

“Take lots of pictures and write everything down, if you can,” he said.

Picknell said water across the county is receding thanks to little to no additional rain, but people traveling through or driving in the county should be careful.

Capt. Jamie Green said portions of roads in East Troy and in the towns of Geneva, Lafayette, Spring Prairie and Lyons remain closed.

Other roads have reopened, but if drivers see a "road closed" sign, they should not ignore it, Picknell said. Drivers should especially avoid standing water because there's no telling how deep it is until you drive through it, Picknell said.

There will likely be work to clean up from the floods for the next 30 days, Picknell said.

In Rock County, Turtle Creek rose but never hit flood stage, National Weather Service hydrologist Brian Hahn said.

The creek was about 2 feet above its normal levels, he said.

Rep. Paul Ryan flew from Washington, D.C., on Thursday to survey the damage in his district. Speaking at a press conference in Burlington, he said the damage is more extensive than when the Fox River flooded in 2007, and he suggested federal aid might be forthcoming if the damage fits the formula for federal disaster response.

For federal aid to flow to those affected, the governor would first make the request, and the president would decide, Ryan said.

“Should the federal government threshold be met, we will be here to make sure the response is there,” he said.

Gazette Reporter Frank Schultz contributed to this article.

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