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FEMA tours storm-damaged homes in Columbia County

September 28, 2018

WISCONSIN DELLS — A team of representatives from county, state and federal emergency management and the Small Business Administration have been touring the region throughout the week, looking at the scope of storm damage to apply for federal recovery funds.

On Thursday afternoon, the team of six pulled up to Jim Peterson’s home on Church Street near downtown Wisconsin Dells. Peterson showed them his mud-covered backyard where a deck and the landscaping had been washed away by floodwater.

“If it was someone who wasn’t in the business they wouldn’t even have a clue where to start,” said Peterson who is a carpentry contractor.

Peterson showed photos of his basement, which had been finished with wood paneling, and a glass case for Coca-Cola collectibles. Peterson said he was fortunate the gas heater water heater didn’t flood and blow up the whole house.

After a few minutes of talking with Peterson, the team went back to their cars and moved on to the next stop a few blocks away.

“The local officials give us a breakdown of information of the homes that were seriously damaged or destroyed and those are the homes we really want to go out to see,” said Tiana Suber, a FEMA spokesperson with the group. “Our assessments started on Monday and each inspection is only four or five minutes. If the homeowner is home, we’ll stop and talk to them and get a little more information, but it is a really quick process. We will try to get it done by the end of the week.”

The inspectors work from a list of locations gathered through the 211 emergency reporting system, going to upward of 100 homes and businesses between dawn and dusk. The Petersons’ caved-in foundation appeared to be typical of what the group had seen on its tour.

Five teams have been moved throughout counties in the region including Crawford, Richland, Vernon, Dane, Sauk, Ozaukee, Jefferson, Dodge, Fond du Lac, Green Lake, Marquette, Juneau, Adams and Columbia. Team five went from Dane County to the Columbia County side of Wisconsin Dells, then to Portage, before heading to Green Lake.

“What they look at mostly is the foundation, the water line of the home, have the people in the home been displaced, how long have they been displaced, and cracks in basements,” Suber said.

The data collected by FEMA and the SBA will be organized and sent to local officials who will pass it to Gov. Scott Walker’s Office. Walker’s staff is expected to the information to Washington D.C. to make the case to President Donald Trump for a disaster to be declared and federal funds to be released for recovery.

“When we get all that in, they will come to that decision in maybe three weeks. It all depends on what the decision is and a lot is up to the governor and the president,” Suber said.

From the Dells, the team went to a rural home on Corning Road, north of Portage. There Curt Alden showed a more dramatic scene where mounds of dirt had been excavated, exposing the east basement wall.

“Our natural flow is down the hill, and it just built up — there was so much rain — I think it just built up the pressure and broke in,” Alden said.

If federal aid is released, it would be welcome news for Alden and Peterson, but also those with storm damage who did not originally report it.

“If they are in the declared counties, yes, they will be able to apply for relief,” said Suber. “Once you apply with FEMA, you can apply with the SBA, so that’s how that works — FEMA and the SBA work very closely during disasters.”

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