November 28, 2014

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Vermilion residents assessing damages from flood

Ice stacks up along Riverside drive in Vermilion. BRUCE BISHOP/CHRONICLE

Ice stacks up along Riverside drive in Vermilion. BRUCE BISHOP/CHRONICLE

VERMILION — Handmade tables — now waterlogged — sat in a pile of ice and a thin layer of mud in the corner of Lou Kuhnle’s basement workshop Tuesday. They were products of hours of work, but since Saturday, most of them had been ruined.

“(The water) turns everything upside down and then you’ve lost everything,” Kuhnle’s son, Lou Kuhnle Jr., said.

The Kuhnles were one of many families affected by flooding in Vermilion over the weekend that soaked basements and left piles of ice in the yards closest to the Vermilion River.

Handmade tables in Lou Kuhnle's basement were ruined by water from flooding. ANNA MERRIMAN/CHRONICLE

Handmade tables in Lou Kuhnle’s basement were ruined by water from flooding. ANNA MERRIMAN/CHRONICLE

On Saturday, an ice jam in the river near Mill Hollow reached 14 feet, flooding areas downriver with water and ice. Mayor Eileen Bulan said the city was forced to evacuate six families from their homes on Saturday afternoon as a result of the flooding. Houses around Riverside Drive and the string of buildings near the Olympic Outing Club off of West River Road were affected the most, she said.

For Lou Kuhnle Sr., who has lived in his home near the Olympic Outing Club for 35 years, the flooding in his basement was a shock.

Kuhnle and his son have spent the past two days clearing his basement of water and mud, trying to clean and salvage everything they can. Kuhnle said the basement held his workshop where he made and painted wooden tables as part of a retirement hobby.

The water — which reached about five feet high in his basement — ruined almost $20,000 worth of his tools and destroyed much of his handiwork, Kuhnle said.

Antique chairs and tables — some of which dated to the early 1900s — lay on the floor of his basement, coated in mud and destroyed by the water.

Though Kuhnle said he raised all of his possessions up a few feet in preparation for the water, he didn’t expect the flooding would be so bad.

“This is the worst it’s ever been,” Kuhnle said.

ice left over

The Vermilion River has receded, but ice remains along Riverside Drive. BRUCE BISHOP/CHRONICLE

Riverside Drive resident George Hammond agreed. Hammond, on vacation in California during the flooding, came home Sunday to find a “wall” of ice blocking the door to his backyard. In his garage, a pool of water several feet high floated his belongings, including car tires. A basement refrigerator lay overturned and his car, which was parked across the street, was filled with water.

“It’s amazing how water can move things,” Hammond said.

In the two days following his return home, Hammond chipped away enough of the ice to open his door and cleared the water and most of the mud from his garage.

“It’s a multi-stage process,” he said, adding that he had a lot of cleaning and salvaging left to do. “It teaches you.”

Hammond and the Kuhnles, who all have lived in Vermilion for years, know that it is only a matter of time before the next flood threatens to cause more damage to their homes. The ice that has built up outside houses along the river will melt when the weather gets warmer, and both families said they have to be prepared.

“The next one could be just as bad,” Lou Kuhnle Jr. said.

Contact Anna Merriman at 329-7245 or amerriman@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnaLMerriman.