WI town forms recovery committee

Funding needed to help those affected by July 18 flooding.

BY HEATHER MOYER | BAGLEY, Wisc. | August 21, 2007

The fellowship offered by the Bagley United Methodist Church during mealtimes helped many residents.
Credit: Rev. Mary Ann Floerke

Residents and volunteers enjoy a meal prepared by the Bagley United Methodist Church.
Credit: Rev. Mary Ann Floerke

The Bagley Area Recovery Committee has formed in response to the flash flooding that hit the southwestern Wisconsin town last month.

Committee members were being trained on the recovery process by members of the United Methodist Committee on Relief and the Wisconsin Conference of the United Methodist Church.

The recovery committee will do all it can to help residents of the more 250 homes that suffered flood damage July 18, said chairman Linda Adrian.

"We are looking at the long-range effects of the storm," said Adrian, who also serves as the Grant County emergency management volunteer coordinator. "We're figuring out some things we can do to let (the residents) know we have not forgotten about them."

The flood caught residents by surprise when it hit early in the morning. Between 7 and 11 inches of rain fell in a four-hour period, triggering the flash flood that came down a large hill near Bagley and into homes. Some residents had to be rescued by boat that night.

"Most people were asleep and had no idea what was going on until we banged on their doors to get them out," said Julie Loeffelholz, spokesperson for Grant County.

Grant County Emergency Management said the flooding destroyed 20 homes, eight of which belonged to permanent residents. Some 50 homes had major damage.

Bagley, about 100 miles west of Madison, is a popular vacation spot with many summer houses. There are 339 permanent residents and another 300 seasonal homes.

Assistance immediately poured into the Bagley area in the form of volunteers and supplies. Work teams cleaned out and tore down damaged homes. Loeffelholz said hundreds of volunteers came to town in those first weeks.

"The response has been overwhelming and the community is extremely grateful," she said.

The Rev. Mary Ann Floerke and her three local United Methodist Church congregations made meals everyday for residents and volunteers. Other churches were soon supporting that effort by taking certain days to prepare the meals themselves.

"We did it for 11 days," said Floerke, pastor of the West Grant Charge United Methodist churches - Bagley, Patch Grove and Mount Hope. "We fed between 75 and 200 people each day. Feeding was our niche; it was what we could do."

Floerke and Adrian said the added benefit of the daily meals was that they allowed residents to see each other daily to check in, talk and just enjoy the fellowship. Floerke said she still receives calls asking how to help. As the recovery committee moves forward, it will assess needs.

For now, Pam Brownlee said funding was the biggest need.

"That's the biggest thing, there is none," said Brownlee, disaster coordinator for the Coulee District of the United Methodist Church. "Many residents applied for (Small Business Administration) loans, but some are holding out for grants."

Brownlee and others said people who wait too long to apply will miss what is available, including the SBA loans. While some residents had insurance, responders said they know that coverage will be insufficient for most people. The majority of residents did not have insurance, they said.

A month after the flooding and the influx of volunteer work crews, residents were feeling the stress, responders said.

"The mood is very low," Brownlee said. "The ones that were displaced or the ones that lost most everything - their morale is very low.

"They don't know the long-term recovery process and they want things done immediately," she said, adding, "I can see why. There's no insurance and they've lost it all. What little they had they're trying to salvage. Most of these folks are low income or on a fixed income - maybe 90 to 95 percent of them."

Adrian said she, too, has seen the stress on the residents.

"Some folks are pretty depressed or down," Adrian said. "They were used to having all these people around at first, but now they're all gone because the cleanup work is done."

Loeffelholz agreed that residents are tired and want life back to normal.

"Yet the recovery period is very, very long," she said. "People are depressed because they lost everything. Anything that wasn't in an upper cupboard is now gone."

Loeffelholz recalled helping one elderly man move his belongings into a new apartment after he had lost his home.

"He said to me, 'OK, you unload the passenger side of my truck, I'll get the driver's side,'" she said. "He was only able to salvage two boxes worth of things from his home."

As the recovery committee members get trained, they said they hope the rebuilding effort will soon start. Floerke said the community will survive and stick together, as evidenced by one resident she knows.

"Early on, this woman said she'd be leaving Bagley now," Floerke said. "She'd been coming to our church for 30 years, but lost her trailer in the flood. She had a lot of memories here. But after that first week and her having the opportunity to talk with people during the meals - it brought people together. The following Saturday night at church she told me she'd be shopping for a new trailer that would fit on her lot."

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Related Links:

Wisconsin Conference of the United Methodist Church - Missions


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