Freeport couple among many forced from their homes due to flooding
'Our basement was like a tidal wave, filling up with water'
FREEPORT — Jon and Debbie Aske awoke Wednesday to the sound of their basement wall collapsing and water rushing into their Freeport home.
It was 4:30 a.m. and floodwaters were flowing through the unincorporated community in northeastern Winneshiek County, just east of Decorah.
“We went running to the basement door, and our basement was like a tidal wave, filling up with water,” Debbie Aske said.
Heavy rains overnight led to widespread flooding in Winneshiek County.
According to the Winneshiek County Sheriff’s Office, Freeport — which sits on the Upper Iowa River — was being evacuated Wednesday. The communities of Decorah, Bluffton, Spillville and Fort Atkinson were also being “significantly impacted,” according to the sheriff’s office.
Riverside Trailer Park in Fort Atkinson was evacuated Wednesday due to flooding from the Turkey River overnight.
Local officials have not requested a disaster proclamation, Gov. Terry Branstad’s spokesman Ben Hammes said Wednesday afternoon, but the Governor’s Office is monitoring the situation closely and is prepared to respond if assistance is requested.
Iowa Homeland Security Administrator Mark Schouten is in contact with local emergency officials and keeping the governor apprised, Hammes said. Either Branstad or Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds are likely to visit the area at an appropriate time, he added.
Debbie Aske, 59, said by 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, the front yard of the couple’s home on 252nd Street — a couple blocks from the banks of the river — was already under water.
A few hours later, they had to evacuate with their dog and the clothes on their backs. They managed to drive out both of their vehicles.
“It happened so fast,” she said. “It was just a matter of a couple minutes.”
The water of the Upper Iowa River was beginning to recede Wednesday afternoon, but there still were plenty of flooded areas.
Rainfall that started around 7 p.m. Tuesday continued overnight, creating a flash flood that displaced many residents, said Wanda Hemesath, Decorah city clerk and treasurer.
Jeff Ode, fire engineer at the Decorah Fire Department, said he and his department received the first call for a rescue in Freeport around 11:30 p.m. Firefighters remained in the area all night, evacuating residents.
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While city officials aren’t sure of the exact number of displaced residents, Ode said he helped an estimated 25 families overnight. Ode himself carried five children from a home in Freeport.
Several roads in Decorah, including parts of Montgomery Street and Highway 9, remained closed and flooded Wednesday afternoon. Hemesath said emergency services employees were expected to continue working throughout the day.
An emergency shelter opened at Stone Ridge Church in Decorah, where the American Red Cross and Salvation Army were providing food, water and a limited number of cleaning kits, Hemesath said.
Lorraine Borowski, a member of the Northeast Iowa Retired Senior Volunteer Program, was helping operate the shelter. She said eight displaced individuals were being served Wednesday morning.
Several schools, including Howard Winneshiek, North Winneshiek and Decorah, were closed Wednesday and are to remain closed Thursday.
The Upper River crested at noon in Decorah at about 13 feet. Water levels are expected to decrease within the next several days.
Brian Pierce, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in the Quad Cities, said the areas impacted by flooding should have a chance to dry out in the coming days. He said the region has a low chance of rain Thursday and during the day on Friday.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Askes had not returned home to assess the damage, as the entire area remained under water. The couple said they are aware of five other houses on their street where basements also were destroyed.
“We were in the flood of 2008, but this is way worse. Our house looks like a house boat, it’s just completely flooded all the way around,” said Debbie Aske, adding she and her husband do not have flood insurance.
On Wednesday afternoon, the couple stopped by the emergency shelter in Decorah to come up with a plan moving forward. The couple has family members in the area with whom they can stay, but they are not yet sure about their next steps beyond that.
The Askes said they cannot go into their home until structural damage has been accessed. Debbie Aske said they don’t expect to be able to move back in for at least a month. They are planning to rebuild whatever has been lost.
“We don’t know what we’re doing, we don’t have a game plan,” she said, adding the shock of the situation had not yet worn off. “My first emotions, I was really scared. Then afterward, you start thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve lived here for 22 years, what am I going to do now?’”