Sudden spring thaw brings flooding, shelters and signs of hope

By Wendy Rociles – American Red Cross

fdl ice jam

Fond du Lac crews worked feverishly March 14 to break up ice jams on rivers caused by an sudden temperature spike.

When Jennifer Pena put her five kids to bed in her Fond du Lac apartment on Wednesday, it was just like any other night. The way they woke up Thursday was anything but.

A sudden spring thaw broke up sometimes car-sized sheets of winter ice along the Fond du Lac River, causing an “ice jam” and river overruns into streets, homes and Pena’s apartment building. Her family awoke to emergency officials on A.T.V.s, pounding on doors and evacuating everyone from the building. Pena’s family, in their pajamas and lugging a box of the essentials, plus a few toys for the kids, were among the dozens of people at an American Red Cross reception center and later a shelter set up in Fond du Lac, one of many such sites set up in Wisconsin during this week’s flooding disasters.

Jennifer and Rosalina at FDL reception center March 2019

Jennifer Pena, right, and her daughter Rosalina Robinson color Thursday at an American Red Cross reception center.

Pena and one of her daughters, Rosalina Robinson, colored Thursday afternoon as the mother talked through the paces that brought her from a normal weekday to emergency sheltering.

“It’s been a long morning,” she said. “Right now, with our house, there’s no way to go back inside.”

As of Saturday, March 16, more than 150 people in Wisconsin received care, sheltering, food and other resources from Red Cross volunteers and staff at shelters or sites including Arcadia, Fond du Lac, Lodi, Prairie du Sac, Green Bay and Stevens Point. After a harsh, protracted winter, spring seemed to come overnight in the Badger State. Even so, Red Cross volunteers were able to set up sheltering with partners, provide support for reception centers and distribute clean up kits to emergency managers.


For the latest on statewide shelters and resources, dial 2-1-1. You can find shelter updates, ways to connect with displaced family members, and safety and preparedness tips by downloading the free American Red Cross emergency app.


 

As people processed their ordeal and what may be ahead in the coming days, Karen Leveque was contemplative about her experience. Like many, she recalled a different round of flooding, more than 10 years ago and along this same river in Fond du Lac.

“I’m doing it all again,” Leveque said.

FDL South and Oak Sts March 2019

South and Oak Streets in Fond du Lac were overrun by the nearby river, displaced dozens of people.

As another family, Lisa and Amanda Frank, were informed that they needed to evacuate their apartments early this same morning, they grabbed important things, like medications and identification. They were also able to grab a few smaller items of sentimental value, just in case they couldn’t get back to the apartment soon.

Keeping her upbeat spirit – hope for the best in the early hours of an unknown weather situation – Lisa pointed to a small, sealed container they were able to carry with them out of the flooded apartment building.

“We even brought our dog (ashes) with us!”

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Volunteers from the Wisconsin Red Cross set up a shelter at partner Community Church on Thursday in Fond du Lac. 

By Saturday evening, just about two dozen people remained displaced at shelters in Fond du Lac, Green Bay and Arcadia. Receding waters enabled the Jennifer Pena’s family to return home, as well as Amanda and Lisa Frank. On Twitter, Amanda Frank wrote: “I also want to thank the @RedCrossWIS and Fond du Lac Community Chuch @ccfdl for all they did to make us feel at home. While I wouldn’t want to experience this again, the experience itself was good. You guys had everything we could have asked and hoped for. #ThankYouGreatly

You can always show your support to the Red Cross in three ways: joining as a volunteer; sharing your financial generosity; and giving the gift of blood.

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