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Walker says flood damage has reached $44M

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks with Baraboo Mayor Mike Palm, left, and Sauk County Board Chairman Peter Vedro, middle, Friday afternoon outside Baraboo City Hall.

Gov. Scott Walker said Friday that state officials estimate damage to public infrastructure due to flooding in south, central and western Wisconsin has reached $44 million.

The majority of that – about $38 million – occurred in Dane County, the first area to sustain flooding after downpours began Aug. 20. Sauk County officials estimate local damage at about $3 million.

As government agencies begin to inspect damages in the coming weeks as floodwaters recede, “we’ll probably see that grow dramatically,” Walker said during a press conference outside the Baraboo City Hall.

The governor said he personally asked Vice President Mike Pence for federal assistance, assuming the state meets disaster relief thresholds. Pence pledged support during a campaign visit Thursday to Wisconsin.

Walker said he surveyed damage in La Valle, Reedsburg, Rock Springs and North Freedom on Friday before traveling to Baraboo, where officials were making preparations as the river continued to rise.

Even if the state receives federal dollars, the governor said, those who qualify for assistance will receive only what is necessary to make their homes habitable. That means many non-essential or personal items lost due to flooding will not be covered.

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Walker says flood damage has reached $44M

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker talks with state Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, as he prepares to address the media Friday in Baraboo.

“I just want to make sure people have realistic expectations,” Walker said.

However, he encouraged people to thoroughly document and report all losses, because the state’s damage total will help determine the amount of federal dollars it receives.

Walker said he hopes federal relief comes quickly because rural communities cannot afford to wait 10 months or more. He also praised public employees and volunteers who have responded to the disaster.

The governor encouraged people to avoid floodwater – which may be contaminated – and not risk driving down closed roads.

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Walker says flood damage has reached $44M

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks during a press conference Friday outside Baraboo City Hall.

“If there’s water over the road, turn around,” Walker said. “You’re going to drown if you don’t.”

Baraboo prepares

On Thursday night and Friday morning, volunteers filled sand bags at the Baraboo City Service Facility to help public workers and those who live near the river brace for flooding. Many from outside the city showed up to lend a hand.

“As a homeowner, water is one of your worst fears,” said Dan Kelter of Sauk City, who drove to Baraboo to assist after he received a notification through the Nixle alert system. “I can’t imagine having to deal with this.”

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Walker says flood damage has reached $44M

Liam Lahti, 5, of Baraboo, shovels sand Friday morining into a bag held by Baraboo teacher Katie Cummings outside the Baraboo City Service Facility.

Baraboo resident Katie Cummings held a bag as her 8-year-old son, Aiden, used a miniature shovel to fill it with sand. She was among a group of Baraboo School District staff who volunteered.

Cummings said it was great to see people from all over helping out. “There was someone from Minnesota who was here last night,” she said.

Volunteers signed in to document their time. City Engineer Tom Pinion said that documentation will help the community qualify for more relief funds if they become available.

“It’s overwhelming the response so far,” Pinion said. “One social media post, and there’s got to be 50 to 60 people here.”

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Walker says flood damage has reached $44M

Volunteers fill sandbags Friday morning outside the Baraboo City Service Facility as part of flood preparation efforts.

In West Baraboo, Public Works Director Bob DeMars and his staff were helping Mike Nora fill and place sandbags around his apartment buildings Friday morning on Koch Street. Nora said he didn't expect water to rise as high as it did in the devastating 2008 floods.

DeMars said the village was monitoring the situation closely.

As of press time Friday, the rate at which the Baraboo River was rising within city limits had slowed dramatically. Officials expected it to crest late Friday night or early Saturday morning.

Baraboo Fire Chief Kevin Stieve said public works employees had done as much as possible to prepare for flooding within the city and surrounding towns. He said public agencies are ready for any additional rain that might come.

“There’s a potential for heavy rain over the weekend, which is obviously not a good sign,” Stieve said. “But I think people are as prepared as they can be… We just have to wait it out.”

Follow Tim Damos on Twitter @timdamos or contact him at 608-745-3513.

Reporter for the Baraboo News Republic.