Wisconsin park becomes an island

PORTAGE, Wis. – Flood waters from the burgeoning Wisconsin River turned a rural neighborhood into a virtual island Monday, cutting off dozens of homes from the outside world.

The river was seeping through and surging around a levee protecting the Blackhawk Park neighborhood in the town of Caledonia just southeast of Portage. The only road in was covered by nearly a foot of rust-colored water.

A few homes in the neighborhood’s low-lying areas were surrounded by water, but most of the houses stood on high ground and remained untouched Monday afternoon.

Emergency workers asked people to leave on Sunday as the river began to rise after last week’s heavy rains overwhelmed rivers. Some 300 people live in the neighborhood, and Columbia County Emergency Management director Pat Beghin said about 25 homes remained occupied.

Beghin said the worst-case scenario was water could wash away the access road, stranding those residents for up to a week.

A century-old earthen dike, part of a 14-mile berm, separates Portage and the neighborhood from the river. But the river rose so high and so forcefully it surged around the dike and poured into the bottom lands around the neighborhood, said Steve Miller, director of the state Department of Natural Resources Bureau of Facilities and Lands.

The rising water chipped away at portions of the berm system Monday afternoon. Much of the levee protects forest and farmland, but a breach in the Blackhawk Park portion could make matters far worse for the neighborhood by potentially washing away the access road.

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