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Waupaca County community recovering after flood caused evacuations

Up to 6 inches of rain have fallen in the community Friday

WI Hwy 49 at the Waushara County line.. Jimmy Emerson, DVM (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Authorities in Waupaca County say a dam that failed is still intact and the worst of Friday’s flood danger appears to be over.

There was fear the Manawa Dam could collapse after a storm dumped nearly six inches of rain Friday morning, forcing residents to evacuate.

“I want to thank the good lord that no one was injured or killed,” Manawa Mayor Mike Fraizer told reporters Friday afternoon. “The rest of that we can fix and repair.”

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The city of around 1,400 people and surrounding areas are under a boil advisory for their drinking water, said Manawa Public Works Director Josh Smith. Residents were also warned not to drive on flooded roads or wade into flooded waters.

“It’s unknown what could be missing underneath, what may have washed away and who knows what kind of contaminants may be in the water,” Smith said.

Around 12:30 p.m., the National Weather Service reported major flooding from the Manawa Dam and the Little Wolf River, advising residents to seek higher ground.

The Manawa Police Department issued a statement just after 2 p.m. saying there were reports of motorists stranded in high water. The department warned people who live downriver from the dam to evacuate. A Masonic center and a high school were opened as evacuation sites for residents.

National Weather Service Green Bay Meteorologist Scott Cultice said Manawa had nearly six inches of rain between 8:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. He said the heavy rainfall came after a series of storms in recent weeks.

“You’re just adding even more to saturated ground. There’s no place for the water to go now,” he said. “We just can’t get an extended period of dry spell with some sunshine to dry things out.”

In a statement, the city said a nursing home was evacuated. Manawa Police Chief Jason Severson told reporters that officials believe the worst danger has passed, but it remains an “active situation.”

“Now, we’re just going to start assessing things and seeing where we go from here,” he said.

This weekend the town was expected to be filled with visitors for the Mid-Western Rodeo. Law enforcement said Friday afternoon the rodeo was canceled.

Fraizer said the rodeo is one of the city’s “big main events” but said life will go on.

“Things can be repaired quickly,” he said. “We hope that life will return to normal within a week or two.”

According to the city website, the Manawa dam was built in 1920. 

Waupaca County Sheriff Timothy Wilz also stressed the importance of avoiding flooded roadways. He said roadways in Waupaca County and surrounding Manawa may have suffered possible erosion.

“As soon as the water clears, the (county highway) department will get out there to assess the roads,” he said. “We’ll reopen them as we see fit.”

Gov. Tony Evers said on social media Friday around 5:30 p.m. that he was briefed on the situation and his office has been in touch with officials in Waupaca County.

“We’ll continue to closely monitor the situation as the state is providing assistance, as necessary, to get folks to safety,” Evers said.

Other parts of northeastern Wisconsin see flooding

The National Weather Service on Friday also issued flash flood warnings in portions of Calumet, Manitowoc, Outagamie and Brown counties.

In Appleton, the city said a number of streets were flooded after a brief period of very heavy rain. Some parts of the city received more than 2.5 inches in a short time span, causing reports of impassible roads. First responders assisted stranded motorists and residents whose homes experienced flooding.

As of 6 p.m. Friday, the city says there are no active advisories regarding drinking water.

“Serious flooding and property damage appears to have occurred in localized areas of the City, and at present there is not an ongoing general concern of flooding,” the city said in a statement Friday evening. “The City of Appleton is working closely with Outagamie County Emergency Management, the American Red Cross, and Outagamie County CERT on recovery efforts.”