“Never been like this:” People living along Fox River in Burlington urged to evacuate overnight

RACINE COUNTY -- Officials on Wednesday night, July 12th offered an update amid severe flooding in Racine County -- particularly in Burlington. They encouraged those living along the Fox River in Burlington/Racine County to consider evacuating overnight. The police chief noted, however, for those who need to go to or from work, seek emergency services or seek shelter, "we are not standing in your way."

"The water level is so high, we're having a difficult time making door-to-door contact. We are doing what we can to make sure those services we can offer are there,"  Burlington Police Chief Mark Anderson said Wednesday night.

Officials said they do not want any pedestrians on any bridges in Burlington due to safety concerns. Four bridges were closed in the area.

"Stay away from the water. Obey the signs. The water's too high and the water is drifting too fast.  There are too many bridges and treacherous roadways to be traversing tonight. If you need to get from one point of the city to another, use the Burlington bypass located on the south side of the city. If they need assistance -- call us. Our 911 is working. Our phone is working. If they need assistance -- pick up that phone. Call 911. We will get you the assistance you need," Chief Anderson said.

A state of emergency has been declared in Racine County. That's in large part because the water was rising Wednesday after more heavy rain pushed through SE Wisconsin. Additionally, the mayor enforced a city-wide curfew at 10:00 p.m. Wednesday for all residents due to the flooding. Officials asked that everyone be off the road by 10. The curfew lasts until 6:00 a.m. Thursday.

"It's for people's safety. You're still allowed to go to and from work and seek emergency services," Chief Anderson said. "Despite the levels of the Fox River, and it appears to still be rising, it does not appear we are due any severe weather (Wednesday night). Hopefully we get some calm. If you live along the Fox River, we have plans in place if the dam does fail. If you live along the Fox River and have the ability to evacuate your homes (Wednesday night), I recommend you do evacuate your homes. We have a plan in place if the dam does break."

Chief Anderson noted there was water at the Burlington Police Department.

"Where our police department sits, we had problems with water coming up from the ground. At last check we had over a foot of water standing in the police department basement where most of the radio and telecommunications sit. We've had on and off issues with dispatch capabilities. 911 is working. We're working closely with the Racine County sheriff so anyone in need, we can provide those services," Anderson said.

The flooding knocked out power to thousands Wednesday after a We Energies substation was impacted. As of 9:00 p.m., 6,000 remained without power.

The Fox River is expected to crest by noon Thursday -- at 16.5 feet, Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave said in a news release Wednesday night. As of Wednesday night, it had already exceeded its historical crest level -- 13.5 feet.

“The strong and continued caution is for people to stay away from the river and stay off the bridges.  The river continues to rise and the current is extremely intense, making this area hazardous.  We cannot express this message strongly enough,” stated Burlington Police Chief Mark Anderson in the release.

Sand bags were being filled and distributed to the community. Two pick-up points are: Walgreens, 680 Milwaukee Avenue and and Karcher Middle School, 225 Robert Street.

Officials with the Burlington Area School District said Wednesday night they've opted to cancel summer school and community education classes for Thursday as a result of this flooding.

Racine County flooding

When the FOX6 News crew arrived in Burlington near Echo Veterans Memorial Park on Wednesday afternoon, the water had not reached police tape at one location that was set up to keep people away. In just an hour, the water rose -- pressing at least 25 feet further into the parking lot.

Racine County flooding

Racine County flooding

Racine County flooding

In Burlington, the dam holds back Echo Lake from the Fox River, but it was holding nothing back on Wednesday. Businesses were closed, and evening events were canceled at the Veterans Terrace, a banquet hall in Echo Veterans Memorial Park.

Veterans Terrace

"The amount of water we're getting -- we've never seen anything like this here," Bill Smitz, general manager said.

Smitz said they were clearing three to four inches of water from the lower level.

"A lot of people in the town are dealing with a lot of issues," Smitz said.

Some set up sand bags. Others either did not -- or the sandbags didn't work -- because they were pumping water.

The whole thing became somewhat of an attraction, with people coming to take pictures of something they had never seen.

"It's never been like this before. I have grandparents who have lived here 35 years, and they really can't imagine anything like this," said Tristen Cassens, who lives in Burlington.

English Settlement Church near Rochester

There was no time to stop working at English Settlement Church near Rochester. Jeff Schimek said he found a foot of water in the 150-year-old building on Wednesday morning.

"We don't know where it's coming from. Only God knows," Schimek said.

It was so bad, the church had to cancel its summer Bible school.

"This is the highlight of our year is this little Bible school thing," Schimek said. "Flood city."

Racine County flooding

Racine County flooding

At least a dozen roads were closed in Racine County Wednesday:

  • Hwy J - Mt. Tom to Hwy 11
  • Hwy 11 west of Hwy 75 by Kansasville Fire Department
  • Hwy B - State Hwy 11 to Kenosha County Line
  • I-94 SB at Hwy KR off-ramp
  • W. Frontage Rd. - Hwy 11 to KR
  • E. Frontage Rd. - Braun Rd. to KR
  • Hwy 11 at W. Frontage Rd. to 59th Dr.
  • Hwy 11 - 59th to 67th
  • Hwy 20 and Hwy 75
  • All of Vandenboom Rd.
  • Willow Rd. - 16th St. to Hwy 11
  • 90th - Braun Rd. to KR

Even with all the road closures, drivers did not seem to care about floodwaters on Highway 11 near Kansasville. FOX6 News saw people driving around the barricades that were set up to block traffic. The sheriff said that's very concerning.

"Not only is that unsafe for them to do so, it creates a safety issue for the first responds who go to help them," said Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling.

Officials with We Energies said between 13,000 and 14,000 customers were without power Wednesday due to flooding at a We Energies substation, which experienced issues around 6:45 p.m.

We Energies officials said crews were trying to find alternatives, considering rerouting power from other substations. As of 9:00 p.m., only 6,000 were without power.

FOX6 News caught up with a group of young men captivated by all the water at their baseball diamond Wednesday evening.

"Just out here taking a bunch of pictures," Daniel Peterson said.

Flooding in Burlington

Flooding in Burlington

Seeking assistance

Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave announced on Wednesday that IMPACT 2-1-1 is assisting the Racine County Emergency Management to document damage to residential property in Racine County that is affected by flooding. To file your damage report simply dial 211 or toll free at 866-211-3380. The information that is collected will be forwarded to Racine County Emergency Management several times per day. They are using this information to determine the scope of the flooding.

IMPACT 2-1-1 serves as a 24-hour central access point for information and referral to family, health and social services. IMPACT is a non-profit organization with 60 years of helping people get connected with appropriate resources and is the designated providers of 2-1-1 in Racine County.