Wednesday, September 19, 2018

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Bad break: Murky water poured into dozens of west-side homes

Flooding left dirty mess, caused the displacement of some residents

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    Dan Burtness of Valley Septic pumped some of the 18 inches of water and sewage that had accumulated in the basement of Carrie Bodenburg’s home on Tuesday on Fountain Street in Eau Claire. Bodenburg’s son alerted her around 12:30 a.m. that water was flooding their basement. The flooding was caused by backed up sewers after a water main broke in the night. View more photos at

    Staff Photo by Dan Reiland
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    Taylor Rathke, left, and Tim Kloss of Chem Master remove a flood-damaged bed on Tuesday from a home on Ninth Street in Eau Claire.

    Staff Photo by Dan Reiland
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    Water filled the basement of Carrie Bodenburg’s home on Fountain Street Tuesday in Eau Claire. Bodenburg’s son alerted her around 12:30 a.m. that their basement was flooding. Water and sewage poured into the home after a water main broke in the night.

    Staff Photo by Dan Reiland
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Carrie Bodenburg was fast asleep on her couch early Tuesday morning when her 18-year-old son raced up the stairs and shook her awake.

There was water in the basement, he told her. Lots of it.

Figuring it was nothing a towel or two couldn’t fix, Bodenburg roused herself from the couch and trailed her son to the basement door.

She soon realized a towel wouldn’t do — water was gushing out of the utility room’s toilet, sink and vanity, and it didn’t appear to be slowing down. Within 20 minutes, Bodenburg said, her whole finished basement was submerged up to her knees in brown, murky water.

“There was nothing you could do,” she said Tuesday afternoon, wrapped in a green sweater as she stood in her kitchen. Wet hand towels, cardboard boxes and various valuables rescued from the flood were strewn on the floor around her slipper-clad feet. “Fast and furious, that’s how I would describe this.”

Bodenburg’s house was one of an estimated 50 that came into contact with sewage and floodwater resulting from a water main that broke at about 1 a.m. Tuesday. About 27 of those homes have asked for assistance, and some households were displaced because of heating issues, according to a news release from the Eau Claire Police Department.

The break occurred on Eau Claire’s west side, affecting three blocks of houses between Ninth and 11th streets from Cedar Street north to Gilbert Street, according to a map the city released. The incident left some homes without a working furnace and significant water damage.

City officials expect a few water main breaks during each winter season, said Lane Berg, the city’s utilities superintendent. They occur when the weather warms up and the ground starts to shift, but they usually don’t cause any damage to residences, he said.

In this circumstance, however, the breakage happened near a sewer manhole and the pipe couldn’t handle the “extreme flow,” Berg said. That caused the water to back up into homes.

“It predates me,” Berg said of the last time a water main break this size happened in Eau Claire. He’s worked for the city for almost 22 years. “I’ve never seen anything to this extent.”

Repair personnel fixed the break early Tuesday and worked throughout the day to clear basements that in some cases were flooded up to 3 feet with sewage and water. City workers knocked on doors to find out what services residents needed and provided them with a list of available heating and cooling companies and cleaning services. They also provided dumpsters for debris.

The American Red Cross is assisting with cleaning supplies for residents.

The Eau Claire City-County Health Department urged affected residents to wear boots and rubber gloves and to wash hands frequently during the cleanup process as well as disinfect surfaces. The area’s drinking water was declared safe, according to the city.

People with questions can call the city at 715-839-4921.

The city doesn’t yet know to what extent it can lend financial help — it encouraged homeowners to contact their individual insurance company to learn their options.

Money was the main thought flooding Bodenburg’s mind as her basement filled with water, which she said didn’t stop until about 2 a.m.

“I was thinking, ‘How am I going to afford to fix all of this? Am I going to lose everything?’ “ she said, suction noises gurgling up from the basement as a crew worked to drain the 18 inches of water that had accumulated there. “I’m fortunate that my insurance plan has some coverage.”

Bodenburg said she’ll probably have to replace her furnace, washer and dryer. She also lost furniture.

Across the street from Bodenburg, Karen Olson didn’t need a drainage crew because the 3 feet of water that filled her basement had left on its own through her home’s drain system. Even so, her basement’s helter-skelter appearance and dirt ring along the walls revealed the water’s presence.

She’s not yet sure what she’s lost but thinks she’ll need a new washer and dryer — the floodwater had lifted her washing machine up and left it tilted on its side — as well as a new furnace. She’s afraid to check on the condition of the books she was in the middle of writing, which also were in the area of the flooding.

“I’ve been working on this doggone basement,” Olson said with a huff and a shrug on Tuesday afternoon. “It’s no good.”

Contact: 715-830-5828,, @LaurenKFrench on Twitter

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