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Flood survivors look to help others

Wisconsin community eyes options, response after second major flood in 10 months

BY BOND BRUNGARD | GAYS MILLS, WI | June 22, 2008


"We lost very little this time because there was little to lose"

—Rev. Pam Lojewski, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church


In a community shattered by heavy flooding twice within the last 10 months, members of Luther Memorial Lutheran Church still want to help others – despite their personal losses.

“’What can I do?’” said Pam Lojewski, as she repeated the refrain from her congregation here.

Church members are now ready to help put the community back together after this week brought another round of heavy flooding in this rain-swollen southwestern Wisconsin village of about 625 people along the Kickapoo River.

Lojewski’s congregation has about 40-50 active members and about half have been affected by flooding that took place this week and the flash floods that struck Aug. 19, in which a wall of water roared through the village and damaged the church parsonage.

“There is so much unknown now,” she said, “We’ve been living with it for months. It’s really, really scary.”

Since the flooding last August, Lojewski said it only takes a heavy rain storm to dreg up the underlying stress suffered in this community since last summer. Personnel from Project Recovery, a Lutheran effort to help congregants deal with this stress, have been to Lojewski’s church.

“They’ve heard stories I haven’t heard,” she said.

Gary Grindeland, the coordinator of Lutheran Disaster Response in Wisconsin, recently finished a statewide tour from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River. The storms that brought so much rain to the state occurred when a front stopped here and just pounded parts of Wisconsin.

“There’s just a sense of, ‘I’m tired,” said Grindeland.

As the floodwaters recede, damage assessment teams are getting started with their duties to try and determine the needs. But in Gays Mills, there was a meeting recently to determine whether or not the community should be moved to higher ground like Soldiers Grove, a community of about 600 seven or eight miles away.

Soldiers Grove moved to higher ground in the early 1980s after it was struck by devastating floods in the early 1950s and the late 1970s. Lojewski is also the pastor of the Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Soldiers Grove and only a handful of families from that congregation were affected by the storms this week.

On Aug. 19 last year, Lojewski was awake in the early morning hours as it continued to rain. About a foot had fallen in two days, and Lojewski was on the phone with her mother in Illinois when the basement wall of the parsonage blew open.

She, like other members of her congregation, was displaced for months by the flooding. About two or three feet of raw sewage collected in the church basement, and once that was cleaned out and the water receded, church members went about raising the parsonage three feet.

The church basement has nothing left in it and although the newly raised parsonage still collected water in the basement, there were no surprising losses this week after the measures taken following the flooding last year.

“We lost very little this time because there was little to lose,” she said.

Others were not so lucky. Nearby Catholic and United Methodist churches were damaged as was a home belonging to an elderly couple, members of Lojewski’s church.

“They repaired (their home), didn’t raise it,” she said, “and lost everything again.”

Or there’s the weekender from elsewhere in the state who did not refurnish his house after the flooding last August. He also had an easier time cleaning up this time.

“You can clean house pretty well with a garden hose,” said Lojewski, “when there’s nothing in it.”

As all the water moves out of Wisconsin and Iowa and downstream along the Mississippi River, the growing season here in America’s breadbasket is very much in doubt.

LeRoy Lippert, chairman of Emergency Management and Homeland Security in Iowa’s Des Moines County, said planting would have to take place by July 1, making it nearly impossible for farmers this year.

“We’ll be lucky to till the soil for a crop next year,” he said.

Lippert has been warning people not to drink the floodwater, which contain mixtures of herbicides and fertilizers. These pollutants may be hazardous for humans to consume in water, but pose no risks to farmer’s fields along with the raw sewage, which has always been used as fertilizer.

It’s the debris and the scattered remnants of houses that will keep farmers busy cleaning up their fields. And Iowa had 24-48 hours to get ready for the flooding that has wreaked so much havoc across the state.

“The flood was wonderful that we had a warning,” he said. “We had a lot of lead time.”

And that lead time allowed many farmers to move their livestock, such as hogs, to higher ground reducing the number of animals lost in the floods.


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