Coon Valley continues to recover two years after historic flooding

COON VALLEY, Wis. (WKBT)– It’s been two years since historic flooding destroyed homes, businesses and communities in the Coulee Region. Since then, places like Coon Valley have been rebuilding one day at a time.

Coon Valley Fire Chief Russ Cornford said it still haunts him knowing how many people could have been hurt or died.

“The water was just unreal,” said Cornford.

It was 1:30 in the morning when the first home rescue call came in, according to Coon Valley Fire Department records.

“We were wading in waist-deep to sometimes chest-deep water helping these people get out of their houses,” Cornford said.

For the next seven hours, firefighters from Coon Valley, Viroqua, Westby and Shelby helped rescue more than 120 people, according to Cornford.

“My wife, as a matter of fact, had to leave our house in the bucket of an end loader while I was out helping other people get out,” Cornford said.

As the sun began to rise, they could see the water level going down and the damage left in its wake.

“Village residents lost everything,” said Karl Henrichsen, village president of Coon Valley.

Momentos, photos and valuables were destroyed. Families couldn’t return to at least two houses right by the creek, but Henrichsen said they moved to other homes in the village.

“Everybody was affected in one way or another,” Cornford said.

Nan Jean Schultz’s business was right in the middle of it. She still has a photo of the flood with Coon Valley Tax Service & Accounting circled in red in her office.

“I had water up to this white line,” said Schultz, pointing at a line on the wall about 5 feet high.

Luckily, her tax records were online. But parts of the building had to be replaced, like the sheetrock that had to be torn down.

“It was so full of mud and muck. We had to gut it,” Schultz said.

The village park, which was already damaged the year before, had a new set of problems.

“We lost two shelters, we lost a gazebo, we lost a storage shed for baseball. There’s no electricity down in the park yet,” said Roger Niedfeldt, president of the village park board.

In the days after the flood, people from all over came to clean up and support in any way they could.

“We all tried the best we could to make it through,” Schultz said.

For some, it took much longer to recover. At least one business is still closed.

“I was very fortunate it only took me three months to get back in because some other businesses weren’t able to start up for many months,” Schultz said.

The village finally got bids to work on the electricity and fencing issues in the park. They hope to have that ready for next year. There are plans in the works for the buildings they lost.

“We are going to replace the two shelters with a pavilion [on] higher ground. So we are going to rebuild smarter,” Niedfeldt said.

They know there’s likely to be more flooding in the future. But they know who to turn to when it does.

“Everybody really pitched in and helped,” Niedfeldt said.

“It brought the community together,” Schultz said.

“I find that we have more support for anything and everything that goes on in this town,” said Cornford, who also serves on the village board.

“We had people whose houses were destroyed and they were out helping neighbors that houses weren’t as damaged. It’s amazing how tight this community is,” Henrichsen said.

Through the darkest of days, Coon Valley rose up together.