Extensive flooding of the WAFER food pantry in La Crosse forced closure of the facility during its regular morning hours Thursday. Staffers and volunteers scrambled to dry out the building, where up to 5 inches of water seeped in through the front and back doors.

Their hustle paid off, with WAFER executive director Erin Waldhart announcing at mid-afternoon that the pantry would be open from 4 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, one of two days it has evening hours.

“It doesn’t look great, but we’ll get food to the people who need it,” she said.

The overnight rains, with 7 to 10 inches reported in some parts of the Coulee Region, also caused major disruptions at Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare in La Crosse and prompted the shutdown of Gundersen Health System’s Blair clinic.

The Urology Department in the basement of Mayo-Franciscan’s clinic was closed Thursday because of water, but patients were being seen in the Surgery Department at the clinic, a spokesman said. It will be the same drill Friday, the spokesman said in late afternoon.

The Center for Women’s Health on the clinic’s first floor near the revolving front doors was closed Thursday because of water in a hallway but was expected to reopen Friday

The Skemp Pharmacy, also on the first floor near the front doors of the clinic, also was closed, but staffers filled prescriptions and made them available to patients at St. Francis Pharmacy on the first floor of the adjacent hospital, the Mayo-Franciscan spokesman said.

At WAFER, an apparent roof leak also damaged several pallets of newly purchased cereal in a back storage area of the building at 403 Causeway Blvd., a forlorn Waldhart said as she motioned toward volunteers who were opening large cartons containing the cereal and checking each box for damage.

Staffers and volunteers wielded mops, water vacuums and other tools to mop up the incursion, which included water and mud in offices and other parts of the building — even the facility’s walk-in cooler, Waldhart said.

Part of the cleanup process was checking food throughout the warehouse and the shopping area for safety, she said.

In the shopping section, shelves had to be moved to get rid of standing water beneath them. Any foodstuffs that had been touched by water from the floor be discarded as a precautionary measure, she said.

The WAFER building’s location in what Waldhart said is the lowest point in the city often results in water problems, but sandbags at the front door usually turn back the water. Not this time, during a storm that dumped as much as 10 inches in some areas of the Coulee Region.

It’s impossible to determine how high the water reached outside, although Waldhart said it apparently floated pallets as high as 4 feet, sending a couple of them into WAFER’s van.

Several regular clients who approached the door to choose their food allotments in the morning walked away with slumped shoulders after seeing the sign that it was closed for cleanup.

“Somebody came at 9:15, and she had water in her car up to her ankles,” apparently from street flooding in her neighborhood, Waldhart said.

“We’ve had to turn people away, and that’s heartbreaking,” she said, attempting to stifle tears. “We’re here to do a service, and we can’t with this.”

Other effects on Mayo-Franciscan facilities included:

Offices on the lower level of the Franciscan Professional Building at 212 S. 11th St. were affected, and staffers were relocated for cleanup. Patient care wasn’t affected.

The Holmen Clinic remained open, although the lower level was flooded. The physical therapy area was not affected. Patients were being seen on the first floor until cleanup is completed. The lower level clinical space will be closed until further evaluation.

Although the storm created massive flooding that was a severe blow to Arcadia, Mayo-Franciscan’s Arcadia clinic remained open for all services. Clinic staffers also were working with emergency response teams to provide cots and other resources to people displaced from their homes.


Mike Tighe is the Tribune newsroom's senior citizen. That said, he don't get no respect from the cub reporters as he goes about his duly-appointed rounds on the health, religion and whatever-else-lands-in-his-inbox beats. Call him at 608-791-8446.

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