Sauk County, Wis., Flood Recovery Effort Continues

Project Recovery is a regional program that’s helping flood survivors set priorities, resolve conflicts, manage stress and get emotional support.

by Ben Bromley, WiscNews / March 4, 2019

(TNS) - Although the summer’s floodwaters have long since receded, recovery efforts continue in Sauk County, Wis.

Thanks to a program supported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, flood victims are getting help putting their lives back together. Some need help repairing their homes. Others seek peace of mind.

“Quite often, I feel like I’m drowning,” said Jim Bohlman, who saw the Baraboo River engulf his Water Street home last summer. Finding temporary housing, arranging for cleanup and contacting contractors proved overwhelming. “When too many things get piled on me, I stop dealing with any of them,” the machinist said. “I get frustrated and overloaded.”

Sauk County Emergency Management connected Bohlman with Project Recovery, a regional program that’s helping flood survivors set priorities, resolve conflicts, manage stress and get emotional support.

“I didn’t know that was something I could ask for,” Bohlman said.

Project Recovery outreach worker Roy Mares said efforts are still being made to help residents rebound from flooding that afflicted much of south central Wisconsin last summer. Through a FEMA grant, Project Recovery has dispatched outreach workers to nine counties, where they help flood victims overcome the stress that comes with adversity.

“It’s been a little rough on a lot of folks,” Mares told the Baraboo Common Council during a presentation Tuesday.

Whether they lost entire homes or just a few treasured keepsakes, flood victims battle post-traumatic stress disorder.

“These little things are important, but overcoming the loss of them is much more difficult,” Mares said.

Project Recovery outreach workers connect flood survivors with community resources, whether they need financial help or grief support. Mares said he spends a day with Sauk County Emergency Management Director Jeff Jelinek each week, and attends the long-term recovery team’s meetings to discuss financial needs. Mares helps flood victims apply for help from agencies like the St. Vincent de Paul Society and FEMA.

“It’s simple things like that, that people start to feel they can’t do,” he said. “Part of our job is helping them dig themselves out of where they’re at.”

Three outreach workers have covered the county since December. They’ll stay until September. Among them is Bachir Zakaouanou, who calls on Bohlman in Baraboo. Sometimes they work together in dealing with paperwork and red tape. Other times they just talk. A widower, Bohlman said Zakaouanou has become his support network.

“He has been a good friend to me,” Bohlman said.

Zakaouanou said seeing one’s home damaged can be traumatic. Power, gas and telephone service were cut off to Bohlman’s home, and the submerged road that leads to it was closed. He was displaced for more than a month. Flooding damaged his floors and personal possessions.

“This is your security, and something happened to it,” Zakaouanou said. “We don’t have all the answers. We’re just trying to be there.”

Mares said long-term recovery efforts are vital, as there’s much work to be done after the volunteers and television crews leave. Much of it centers on mental health care.

“It’s critically important that people share their stories,” Mares said. “Now it’s time for us to help ourselves.”

“To have that resource helps a lot for me,” Bohlman said. “It’s pretty great what they do.”

Outreach workers strive to help flood victims who feel overwhelmed. Mares encouraged residents to call 844-260-7029 if they — or someone they know — needs support. “They don’t know what to do; they don’t know where to turn next,” Mares said. “We do have avenues where we can get you some help.”

Follow Ben Bromley on Twitter @ben_bromley or call him at 745-3507.

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