MAZOMANIE, Wis. - Jim Olson moved into his home on Hudson Street in 1965. In the 54 years since, he’s seen a lot of flooding in his backyard. That will happen when the property borders moving water.
“It was just getting better until last year,” Olson said. “Then, everything went wrong then.”
When it started raining, Olson and some others posted up in his garage to watch the storm roll in.
“Two guys come over and say, ‘We're here to rescue you.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about? We've gone through this before.’” Olson said. “They said, ‘Well, the water's really coming.’ And they were right and we weren't.”
Olson and his wife, Rose, left through the front door on a boat. They had to leave behind most of their possessions, prescriptions and medical devices they rely on. By the time they could get back into the house, everything in the basement was destroyed. Olson’s creek-side shed was swept away along with all the antiques inside.
“I had toys in there from when I was a child,” Olson said.
It took weeks for the Olsons to get approval to rebuild. Luckily, they had family they could stay with on higher ground. They eventually got new wood flooring and cabinets, but things like pictures and that shed couldn’t be replaced.
About a dozen homes are still vacant a year after 100 households were evacuated for flooding. A number of those structures have visible mold and are seemingly beyond repair. Some properties have already been demolished. Other residents have poured tens of thousands of dollars into raising and fixing their homes and are just able to move back in.
“Not everyone has had the opportunity to bounce back,” Mazomanie fire Chief Mark Geisler said, “so I think it's important that they don't slip through the cracks, and they're not forgotten.”
Seven homes, including the Olsons', are eligible for a potential FEMA buyout. That means those homeowners could have the option to sell their land back to the village, which would then tear down buildings on those properties to prevent future flooding vulnerability. It could be months before the federal agency finalizes the details of that program.
After more than half a century living in the same place, the Olsons have no intention of leaving. That said, if there’s another historic event like there was in August 2018, Olson said he would consider leaving the house he’s made a home.
“What do you do? Just go on. Hope to anyway,” Olson said, “and hope it doesn't happen again in the next few years. In my lifetime, anyway.”
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