Gov. Scott Walker expanded the state of emergency to the entire state Wednesday, signing an executive order before leaving for a tour of flood damage that included Coon Valley.
Communities across Wisconsin are reeling from extensive damage caused by flash floods that accompanied the torrential rainfall earlier this week.
“We have requests coming in from all over. … For us, it’s just easier to do it across the board. That frees up our ability to work with local governments and our partners with charitable groups like the Red Cross and Salvation Army,” Walker said.
Walker was joined by Maj. Gen. Donald Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general who commands the Wisconsin National Guard and is responsible for Emergency Management, and Wisconsin Emergency Management administrator Brian Satula as he spoke with those affected by the flood, touring the La Crosse area, as well as Westby, Ontario and Elroy.
“It’s really important for us to be here — not just to see the aerial stuff and see the drones — but to physically see and talk to local volunteers and officials to see what the needs are, to get a sense of what more can be done,” Walker said.
Coon Valley resident Denise Thompson, who has been helping her friend MaryPat Peterson clean out the basement of Coon Valley Chiropractic, was grateful to learn about the recovery process and amazed to see Walker take the time to visit her small community.
“It just builds our sense of community in the state of Wisconsin. It’s bigger than just our little town. We have a community throughout the whole state,” Thompson said.
While her home made it through the floods, her friends and neighbors haven’t been so lucky.
“It’s pretty overwhelming. You’re thankful for your life and now to sort through the cleanup is heart-wrenching,” she said.
The state is working on getting federal assistance to focus on safety, recovery and mitigation of future incidents.
“While some areas have never been flooded before that we’ve visited in the last week, others have repeatedly, so we’d like to make sure that part of that goes toward mitigation,” Walker said.
Wisconsin Emergency Management is working with county emergency management departments to document damage and apply for assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Walker encouraged people to take plenty of photos and document all damage, then report it by calling 2-1-1.
“For us to get to the point of a federal declaration, we need to show documentation of all the damage: Personal damage, damage to private property, whether it’s commercial, as well as we’ll be documenting public infrastructure damage,” Walker said.
Walker also reminded people that FEMA bases its assistance on what it will take to inhabit the house again, not returning it to its previous state.
“If you have a fridge full of beer and food, if you have an ice bar, pool table, those are all things that obviously are a bummer to lose, but that’s not disaster recovery. Things you have to have to live in your home — things like a water heater, like a furnace — those are the sorts of things they’ll be narrowing it down to,” Walker said.
The Wisconsin Emergency Management team is good at narrowing it down, he said, saying t
hat requests submitted through that team are on a good path for approval by FEMA.
During his tour, the governor stressed the importance of staying safe.
“Not just today, but even as we’re doing recovery for houses that are compromised, we want to make sure we work with local officials to make sure people are safe in the area,” Walker said.
The governor stressed the importance of avoiding flooded roadways not only because you don’t know what’s below the surface, but also because you don’t know how fast the current is.
“Thankfully so far there are no fatalities here, but we had one last week in Madison, and it’s just a vivid, vivid reminder, if there’s water over the road, don’t go in it. Turn around and go in some other direction,” Walker said.
He was heartened to see volunteers of all ages, including high school kids, chipping in to help their neighbors clean out mud and sort through their belongings.
“As much as some of the devastation breaks your heart, the volunteers warm your heart,” Walker said.