WATCH: Federal damage assessors tour Walworth County; federal aid still uncertain
ELKHORN—Julie Doucette woke in the wee hours Wednesday, July 12, to the sound of trickling water in her basement.
Soon that trickling became a rushing. Water flowed in through the garage and burbled up through floor drains. The toilet overflowed. Doucette eventually had about 18 inches of water in the basement of her Elkhorn home.
The flooding destroyed her furnace, water heater, a freezer and 30 years' worth of woodworking equipment, including her husband's custom workbench, she said.
Doucette's story is similar to those of many Elkhorn homeowners affected by heavy rains and flooding in July.
Her insurance will pay only $5,000. Standard homeowner's insurance doesn't cover flood damage, but it often covers damage from a drain backup that causes basement flooding, said Richard Crowe of the Wisconsin Small Business Association.
Crowe toured Walworth County on Tuesday with damage assessors from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a Walworth County Sheriff's Office lieutenant.
FEMA officials are visiting Walworth, Racine and Kenosha counties at the request of Gov. Scott Walker. They will collect data this week for a report that they will give to the governor, who then could request a disaster declaration, said Laurie Smith-Kuypers, a FEMA public relations officer.
“We're here to validate the data and the damage, and we give it all back to the governor, and the governor decides whether to request the declaration from FEMA,” Smith-Kuypers said.
FEMA officials don't enter affected homes. They just talk to homeowners about the damage.
If a county is declared a disaster, FEMA offers a grant of up to $33,300 for each homeowner, Smith-Kuypers said.
However, the Small Business Association can make low-interest loans available, which would cover damages if a disaster is declared, Crowe said.
Wisconsin Emergency Management has reported that 175 Walworth County homes were damaged by flooding. But sheriff's Lt. John Ennis said the number likely is higher than that.
Ennis said FEMA assessors probably will encounter a number of homes that sustained damage but did not report it.
Sandy Pretzman's house had less damage than Doucette's, but she won't be getting an insurance check, she said.
Pretzman and her husband, Chuck, had to replace the wood paneling and carpet in their flooded basement, and their grandson's room had to be gutted. But their drain didn't back up, so insurance won't cover the damage.
Pretzman said they don't have flood insurance.
Flood insurance is available only through the National Flood Insurance Program, and the entire community must enroll, Smith-Kuypers said.
Elkhorn residents aren't eligible for flood insurance because the city doesn't participate in the program, she said. However, Walworth County does, so homeowners who live in unincorporated areas can buy insurance.
Paul Rickert bought flood insurance when he moved into his rural home about a year ago. He thought it was a wise decision because he had a finished basement.
He was right.
Rickert's flood insurance will cover all of his damages, including some minor drywall damage and ruined carpet.
Two teams of assessors are touring the county. One team examines private property damage, and the other looks at public infrastructure damage.
Wisconsin Emergency Management has estimated infrastructure damage at $8.61 million.