It could be several weeks before Burlington learns the full extent of damage to the downtown district. Streets, parking lots and buildings near the Mississippi River were inundated with flood water after a temporary flood barrier failed Saturday afternoon.
Burlington is in the process of building a permanent flood wall downtown.
The floodwall that stretches from north of Memorial Auditorium to south of the Port of Burlington can hold back flood waters reaching 28’. Eventually, both ends of the flood wall will be extended to the west to fully protect low-lying areas.
Assistant City Manager Nick McGregor says construction of the remaining portions of the flood wall are expected to take place next year. Until that’s complete, the city sets up large baskets that are filled with sand to hold back the water.
McGregor, who also heads the public works department, told the Burlington City Council this week the baskets had been holding back the river for roughly three months before a portion of the barrier failed. He said that was tough to take for himself and the entire public works department.
“You know, you spend three months trying to protect something and you work your tails off doing it and just when you think you had it ---- you don’t,” said McGregor. He said the permanent flood wall itself held up to the river.
McGregor said the river has fallen more than one foot since the barrier gave way. He said it will have to recede several feet more before crews can inspect the affected downtown buildings.
McGregor stressed during the meeting that people need to stay out of the flooded area. He said city employees who have to work there must receive tetanus and hepatitis shots to protect themselves.
“There is currently raw sewage that is being pumped out of the basements of many of the areas affected in the downtown,” said McGregor. “The waters are not something to be walking around in.”