Catholic Herald Intern
MADISON -- A series of powerful storms struck the Midwest recently, with punishing winds, rain, and tornados affecting much of southern Wisconsin and many in the Diocese of Madison.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with all the individuals, families, and communities affected by the devastating storms, heavy rains, and ensuing floods of this past week," said Bishop Robert C. Morlino in a statement released June 11. Bishop Morlino was attending the U.S. bishops' meeting in Orlando, Fla.
"As the state and federal authorities continue to assess the damage and make plans for relief, the Diocese of Madison and her officers are likewise determining the specific plan of action it will take, to reach out to those individuals and communities most affected by this disaster.
"Over the coarse of this week, my representatives and I have contacted, and we will continue to contact, all those parish communities affected by these storms and the damage they have caused, determining what the needs of individuals are, spiritually, psychologically, and physically, and we will address those needs as quickly as possible," the bishop stated.
Everyone is asked to pray for, and to assist, those in need, he said.
"To every person affected by this disaster, please know you are in our prayers and we will work to assist you," Bishop Morlino said. "I am assured by my brother bishops from around the country that you are in the thoughts and prayers of Catholic communities around the entire country. May God bless you and comfort you in your suffering and loss."
In the Madison Diocese, Wisconsin Dells, a city located 50 miles north of Madison, was the hardest hit of several communities.
Rising floodwaters in the popular tourist destination Lake Delton washed away a portion of an adjoining highway, draining the lake completely into the nearby Wisconsin River. The rush of water caused by the breach washed away three homes completely, and destroyed another two.
Despite the power of the storms, Catholic churches in the area were left relatively unharmed. Msgr. Felix Oehrlein, pastor of St. Cecilia Parish in Wisconsin Dells, said that apart from a few downed trees, the church was left unharmed.
"The storm seemed to go on endlessly," Monsignor remarked. "But everyone is optimistic, and we have a great tradition of going on."
Lake Delton had been a sought-out spot for vacationers in the area, with waterskiing shows and boating activities drawing thousands each year to the many resorts lining the lake. Only a mud bed remains in its place.
Two families of St. Cecilia's were among those who lost their homes in the Lake Delton flood, while several more had trees damage their houses, leaving them temporarily homeless, Monsignor Oehrlein reported.
In Janesville, a Catholic school reported water damage in a classroom due to the storms. Matt Beisser, principal of St. Patrick School, said that the high winds had caused the roof to peel back, exposing the building to the elements.
"We were planning on other school improvements, but not on the roof: now we have to get a new roof," he said. Fortunately, classes had finished for the summer, so the damage was only a financial inconvenience.
"Classes finished on Thursday and this happened on Sunday," noted Beisser. "No one was affected and that's the best part," he said.
Monsignor Oehrlein sounded a similarly optimistic note. "We're 98 percent up and running despite the devastation," he said. "People should just come up and visit as normal."
Agricultural damage from floods, storms significant
-- Posted 6/16/2008, 4:30 p.m. Central Time
By Tom Nelson
MADISON -- Farms, parishes, and communities around the Diocese of Madison sustained varying levels of damage recently due to the massive flooding afflicting Southern Wisconsin.
Lenny Schaub of St. Patrick, Loretto, reports major flooding on roadways and farm fields, with huge debris accumulation (whole hillsides of trees) in the bottom of farm fields. Schaub was unable to get out of Richland Center Monday morning or get back that evening with Hwy 80 under water. Schaub tried to cross his garden last evening to straighten the tomato plants that had blown over and sunk a foot deep into his topsoil.
Driveways have been completely washed away, and farm equipment cannot move from the machine sheds to the roadways -- this infrastructure will have to be repaired or replaced before farmers can get into their fields, once the fields have dried out. Many fields that have standing water sustained total crop damage, and cannot be replaced due to the planting seasons.
Fr. Rob Butz reports that Grant County has not faired as badly as across the river in Richland County (Diocese of La Crosse) where the village of Steuben was completely underwater. Fr. Rob has a number of parishioners from the La Crosse side of the diocesan boundary who are active members of his parish. Avoca in Iowa County suffered major flooding also.
Barbara Kramer of St. Lawrence, Sullivan, in Jefferson County reports the Crawfish and the Rock River are spilling over and covering entire valleys of farm fields. Easily 20 percent of all fields have been drowned or carried off by the rivers of topsoil, carrying the tiny corn plants right into the river.
The planting on the hills are affected with major erosion which will prevent the farmers from getting into the fields once they dry out. This poses a significant safety issue with tractors and gullies in fields.
Fr. David Wanish of St. Joseph in Argyle reports the Pectonia River is up to a flood stage equal to the devastating levels of last August. Two parishioners have suffered wind related destruction, including the loss of a silo and a barn.
Flooding resulting from the next 24 hours of rain may cover many additional acres and the loss is significant in both soybeans and corn. Fr. Dave is very concerned for the consequences of these major losses on the third world food programs, especially directed to our Mexican neighbors.
Msgr. Felix Oerhlein is dealing with the loss of two parish families’ homes along Lake Delton. Fr. Felix is also chaplain for the local fire department and was even busier than he usually is trying to assist the municipal first-responders.
He shared a story of a parish member who had just put $20,000 worth of fertilizer out on their fields and that all washed off into the torrent. Baraboo River is also at flood stage and has forced the Circus World to evacuate their circus wagons, just below the parking lot of St. Joseph of Baraboo.
Tom Nelson is the coordinator for the Rural Life Office of the Diocese of Madison.
Diocese of Madison, The Catholic Herald
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