Water from the White River breaches its concrete embankment and spills onto the Burlington Riverwalk between Milwaukee Avenue and Bridge Street on July 12. (Photo by Mike Ramczyk)

The flood of July 2017 set records for the water that rose and the damage that befell the residents of the Burlington area.

It will also long be remembered for the way it disrupted normal lives and livelihoods during an era when most people believe themselves to be insulated from the lingering disruption of a natural disaster.

For most it took days or weeks, but for an unfortunate group it will take months or years to recover from the devastation of the flood.

The City of Burlington, at the confluence of the Fox and White rivers, became ground zero on July 12 for area-wide flooding that closed roads, bridges and businesses, infiltrated homes and other buildings, and cut electrical power to thousands of people in the area – some for more than three days.

Nearly eight inches of rain – 7.95 as recorded at Burlington’s Wastewater Treatment Plant – fell in a period from the evening of July 11 to the early afternoon hours of July 12. The Fox River crested at 16.5 feet a day later, which is three feet above the previous high mark and 5.5 feet above flood level, according to officials.

The water paralyzed the area, limiting transportation and trapping people in their homes as they struggled to find solutions to the water rising in their basements.

The City of Burlington imposed a curfew on residents in the days immediately following the flood in an attempt to limit activity near the dangerously rushing river water. The National Guard provided assistance for several days, manning roadblocks and performing wellness checks on residents in flooded areas.

Local emergency officials rejoiced in the fact that no major injuries were reported as a result of the flooding.

As the rivers receded, assistance rushed into the void created by the flood. The Red Cross set up a shelter and distributed supplies at Burlington High School. Local churches joined forces to provide nightly meals at the St. Charles School cafeteria and assistance organizations – such as Samaritan’s Purse – came to assist residents with cleanup of their flooded homes.

Weeks later, crews from the state and federal government moved in to assess the damage and start work on what could result in a federal disaster declaration and aid for those who suffered the greatest losses.

Racine County and the Burlington area in particular bore the brunt of the damage with 2,337 homes affected by the floods. Of that number, one home was destroyed, 60 suffered major damage and 231 had minor damage, according to preliminary figures released by the state Emergency Operations Center.

Racine County also had six businesses with major damage and 16 with minor damage.

In the wake of the flood, the Burlington Community Fund raised more than $500,000 through a variety of sources – including its own reserves – to provide grants to area property owners hit hardest by the flood. The fund made 200 grants in varying amounts ranging from $200 to $10,000.

While the damage remains the greatest reminder of the great flood, many in the area will cling to memories of the way the community came together in the face of disaster.

Red Cross Shelter Supervisor Tracy Zuleger, who is often plunged into a community at its darkest hour, said Burlington provided a shining example for communities everywhere.

“This community is amazing,” she said. “I’ve been on a lot of disaster relief missions (and) this is the best community I’ve ever seen come together.”

To read the full list of the top 20 news stories of 2017, see the Dec. 28 edition of the Burlington Standard Press.

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