‘It looked like a white river on both sides of the house’

Spring Street residents were helpless as floodwaters turned yards into lakes, burst through doors, destroyed lower floors
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

Greg Williams fell asleep Sunday night in the basement man cave at his house  at 223 N. Spring St., only to be awakened a couple hours later by the incessant mewing of his cat.

He opened his eyes to see water trickling into the room around a steel door on the exposed basement.

“Some was even shooting through the lock,” Williams said, so he went upstairs to get his wife Linda.

“We no sooner got down there and the door tore right off the frame,” he said.

“It was scary,” said Linda, who held onto a post to keep from being thrown across the basement by the force of the water.

A bookcase fell on top of Greg, who was able to free himself when it began floating. They made their way to the first floor of their home and watched as the water filled the basement, stopping just before it would have entered the kitchen, in minutes.

“Everything I had, all my collections, were down there. I lost my wallet and phone down there,” Greg said, noting the basement was home to a living area as well as his man cave. “I got the turntable and my amp. I lost my record collection.

“I thought I had time. There was a half-inch of water in there, then the door just went bam.”

They got their cars out of the garage before the water got to them, but the floor buckled — Greg speculated that the gravel underneath the concrete was washed out by the force of the water.

And their back yard was inundated. When the water receded, muck and debris were everywhere. Huge trees and stumps were thrown about — including a large stump left on a landing on the steps of their deck.

“That thing’s got to weigh, I don’t know,” the couple’s grandson Cameron Pape said. “How do you get it out? This yard is completely destroyed. It’s a really beautiful yard normally.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time the Williams family has had this issue. In 1986 and 1996, their home and yard also flooded after torrential rains fell on saturated ground. 

“This is the worst I’ve ever seen,” Greg said. “It looked like a white river on both sides of the house.”

The city had a plan to mitigate flooding in the area  several years ago, but it required easements from 13 property owners — and at least two of these owners said they would not sign off on the plan, officials noted.

“They’ve been trying to figure this out for years,” Greg said. “All that happens is the water runs down and washes right through the yards.”

He suggested the city buy the three most affected properties on the east side — his and two neighboring properties — and build a berm to create a collection basin there.

“This could be a great collection point,” he said.

“If they don’t do something about it, this won’t be the last time it happens,” said Jeff Gosse, who lives in a duplex across from the Williams family.

Gosse said he heard a loud gurgling sound when he awoke about 3 a.m. and found the street outside had become a raging river.

“I looked outside and, holy cow. The water was up to here,” he said, gesturing to the top of the steps to the home.

Peggy Gaulke, who lives in the other side of the duplex, said she and her son Nick discovered the flooding when police and firefighters came to the door.

“They were pounding on the door,” she said. “The water was just inches from the door.”

The basement of both sides of the duplex filled with water after the windows broke, stopping just short of the first floor.

Gosse called 911 and was told to go to high ground, while police told Gaulke and her son they could stay inside.

“We can’t stay here. We can’t use the air conditioning or water,” Gaulke said Tuesday morning. “We have a brand new furnace down there (the basement).”

Her son’s Dodge Dart was in the driveway, where a pile of debris accumulated underneath it. He said the floor of the back of the car was wet, and there was debris in the engine.

A garden shed next to the house that was filled with equipment, including two snowthrowers, was tossed from the concrete slab it sat on by the force of the water. It sat precariously on the hillside behind the house, balancing on a corner.

“There’s thousands of pounds in there. How do you start to pick that up?” property owner Dave Ross said.

After the storm, the families discovered a number of pieces of patio furniture, planters and the like in their back yard.

“Our neighbors have been coming over here saying, ‘We came to see if you had this of ours and that of ours?’” Nick Gaulke said.

Despite the mess, Gosse said there is one blessing.

“No one got killed,” he said. “This can all be replaced.”

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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