Gays Mills community cleans up after historic flood

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GAYS MILLS, Wisconsin (KCRG-TV9) -- People in the Crawford County village of Gays Mills are cleaning up as flood waters are starting to recede. The Kickapoo River reached a recording breaking 22 feet back on Wednesday, August 29.

A look inside a Gays Mills business on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2018. The floor and portions of walls in the Village Greenhouse are torn out. (Allison Wong, KCRG-TV9)

The community center has been the main hub for flood cleanup efforts.
Businesses have donated food and water and people sent clothes, pet food, and cleaning supplies for residents. Hot meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner were also served.

Volunteer coordinator and former village president Larry McCarn said it has been amazing to see all of the support.

“We’ve just been overwhelmed with so much donations," McCarn said. "It’s just been tremendous."

He said the response brings back unpleasant memories. The town suffered then-historic floods back in 2007 and again in 2008.

"Even I have been through this back in '07 and '08. I was village president back then and we went through a lot then and this is, I mean it just blows your mind even yet,” he said.

People who are looking to help with clean up can stop in at the community center, located at 16381 WI-131, and talk to McCarn. He said they will serve meals again on Tuesday.

While donations and help are coming in, property owners are assessing the damage and getting to work.

Homeowner Sandi Reitzloff was busy directing volunteers in her home on Monday, telling people to throw away shoes or pick up her washing machine.

Despite the circumstances, she feels fortunate. Reitzloff tells people they should be happy they have belongings to throw away at all.

"My stove still works, my refrigerator stills work. We have to be positive," Reitzloff said.

She is not surprised her neighborhood flooded.

"You know it was only a matter of time," Reitzloff said matter-of-factly.

Craig Anderson, who owns the home next to Reitzloff, is worried about what is next for the town. He said about 20 percent of the village's population left after the flood in 2008.

"This was unexpected and it’s going to change the village again, I think, dramatically," Anderson said.

Many of the homes in the area took on water and they never had before this event, not even in 2008. The same can be said for the businesses in the downtown district.

Joe Brandt, the owner of the greenhouse and floral shop Village Greenhouse, said he did not expect his shop and two greenhouses to flood.

“We’ve had numerous floods and I’ve never flooded before, ever because I was required by law when I built this place to build it three feet above the floodplain," Brandt explained.

Those three feet were no match for the Kickapoo River.

"They warned us and I was kind of in disbelief, it’s like, 'no we’re not going to get that much.' I put some stuff up but it’s all hindsight now," Brandt said.

17 inches of water made its way into his shop and even more in the greenhouses.

Brandt tore out the drywall on the bottom half of the walls inside his shop. He also cleaned out his greenhouses and power-washed.

Brandt said he knows there is a lot to be done, but he intends to stay.

"Trying to get things back on track so I can hopefully open in two or three weeks cause this is my livelihood and I have to get it all together," Brandt said.

The town has its annual Apple Festival the last full weekend of September, just a little over three weeks away.

Brandt and other business owners hope to be cleaned up and open for that event.

“It's typically a fun time, beautiful time of the year here in the valley," Brandt said of the festival. "And the orchards, you know, we’re famous for the orchards so you get a lot of traffic."

Reitzloff has faith in her town and would like to stay in her home. Still, she said she will remain positive no matter the outcome.

"If I can’t, then I can’t and I’ll just go where the crows fly, and with a U-Haul trailer too," Reitzloff said while laughing.

Those wishing to help can call the Gays Mills Village office at 608-735-434.

Money can also be donated to WCCU Credit Union. The bank will accept financial donations at all branch locations to be distributed in Crawford, Monroe, Richland, Sauk, and Vernon County. Checks should be made out to “WCCU” and the depositor can decide which county(ies) they would like to donate towards.

For those who would like to mail donations, they can mail them to WCCU, PO Box 70, Westby, WI 54667