“It’s been a rough year”: Compassion and help for residents besieged by storms

Stories and photo by Justin Kern, American Red Cross of Wisconsin

Rhonda Pfaff hadn’t finished cleaning out her home, garage and yard from the first flood when the nearby Baraboo River started to rise again.

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Rhonda Pfaff shares an embrace with Cindy Brown, Red Cross volunteer.

By the time a second August flood submerged her neighborhood in Elroy, Pfaff wondered if the deluge and damage weren’t “the last straw” for her home and others on the street, some already cordoned off with caution tape. Pfaff had moved to the home formerly owned by her great-aunt to care for her beloved father, Gaylord (“I was his shadow”). He passed away in March and much of the rehab work they did – wood work, flooring, landscaping – were left awash and stripped from their single-story, cream colored ranch-style home.

“It’s been a rough year,” Pfaff said, soon after a hug with Red Cross volunteer Cindy Brown. “All we have left from the basement are some dishes. You know what? We’re alive. We have our health.”

Pfaff reflected on the destruction in her small Wisconsin town and others across the state hit with record rainfalls, overburdened rivers and more than a dozen tornadoes from mid-August to early September. Red Cross volunteers Cindy Brown and Fayth Harrison went door to door on September 6th in Elroy, its small-town Americana now buttressed with entire living rooms, bedrooms, vehicles and basement possessions on the front curb for disposal.

Harrison and Brown brought Pfaff Red Cross assistance and information on various recovery resources. To Pfaff’s relief, they also brought open hearts.

“You have brightened my day. I can’t tell you how much this means to me,” Pfaff said.

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The scene on one Elroy, Wisconsin street in early September.

As grim as the scene in her neighborhood, Pfaff was appreciative that her family was unharmed and had a place to go, in her former home across town. Pfaff’s ex-husband and his family came by to clear out trash and debris. She teased her son, who had been living at her house along with his fiancée, that he was excused from yard maintenance after flood waters carried a metal yard roller hundreds of yards from their property into a marsh.

Pfaff held remarkable humor and warmth as she talked with Red Cross disaster workers, even while she pointed to the high-water mark on the outside of the home that lined up well into her living room.

“I have to laugh because if I cry I’ll fill up that river so damn fast,” Pfaff said.

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Reedsburg, another hard hit town, continues to deal with standing water from August storms.

Including their time with Pfaff, Brown and Harrison made the rounds with multiple families Thursday in Elroy. Days into a deployment in their own state, the two volunteers they were flagged down on this day by one person in a passing truck, alerted to another person in need of assistance who was working the lunch shift at her downtown diner. Hundreds of residents across the state have received assistance, clean-up supplies, meals and more from Red Cross during response and recovery, now at more than three weeks.

Red Cross continues to reach out to residents across the state in need after these devastating late summer storms, tornadoes and floods. To connect with Red Cross recovery resources, call 888-700-7051 and leave your information. A disaster recovery specialist will call you back as soon as possible.

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