Deluge in the Dark: The flash flood of Gays Mills

The flash flood of 2007 in Gays Mills forever changed the landscape of the town and the people who live there. 

Up to eight feet of water swallowed part of the downtown area, when the Kickapoo River overflowed its banks after heavy rain overnight on August 18, 2007.

The area received more than 12 inches of water overnight, giving residents little time to prepare and get to safer ground.

"It was about 8:00 in the morning and water started coming in the back door of our house," Carol Martin, who lived on Park Street, said. "By that time, it probably had to be four feet deep outside. It was a flash flood, it came really quickly."

Martin and her husband had lived in their home on Park Street since 1969. Flooding is nothing new to Gays Mills residents and Martin said she wasn’t concerned. So little, in fact, she had her neighbors over for breakfast when water started pouring in.

"Our neighbors were like, we need to get out of here!" she said. "They had a canoe and they said pack your bag and we are going to have to leave."

Within seconds, Martin said furniture on the main floor of her home was floating. She and her husband were forced to leave their home nearly 40 years, behind.

The Martin’s evacuated to safer ground, returning to their home-or what was left of it- a few days later.

"We threw out probably half of our house," she said. "Pretty much anything water touched was contaminated and needed thrown out."

After spending three years in Winona living in an apartment, the Martin’s moved back to Gays Mills in 2010 and began rebuilding the home. The house had suffered even more damage after the flood of 2008.

But later, the two agreed to a buyout and moved about a mile outside of town to higher ground.

Steve Mickelson, the owner of The Marketplace in downtown Gays Mills, suffered a similar fate.

"Usually we have time to move things but 2007 was different," he said. "It came overnight so we didn’t have the opportunity. By the time I got to town, the streets were full of water and I couldn’t get to my business."

The storms knocked out power, leaving pounds of perishables to spoil and ultimately, to be thrown out. It also left the small town without a grocery store.

"The people of this community are amazing," Mickelson said. "Everybody, both young and old didn’t even ask if they could help, they just arrived and started to work."

The Marketplace reopened, only to suffer more structural damage the following year during the 2008 flood.

"It was then that we decided it wasn’t worth investing more money in the flood plain," he said. "So we moved up out of town where most of the rebuilding has taken place."

Martin and Mickelson’s Marketplace are now a stone’s throw away from each other and neither suffer water damage anymore.

Martin’s husband passed away a few years ago, leaving her time to think about their life together and their beloved house that no longer sits on Park Street.

"My husband loved that house," she said. "It was really hard for him to leave and to think now that it’s been demolished and its just a vacant lot is hard. We raised our family in that home."

Amazingly, there were no fatalities during the 2007 flash floods in Gays Mills. 

MORE: Gays Mills residents reflect on history of flooding

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