Authorities evacuate residents after levee erodes along Wisconsin River

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PORTAGE, Wis. (WMTV) -- In Columbia County, eight miles of Levee Road are closed, after officials found erosion along the Caledonia levee.

The road is closed on Levee Road, stretching from Schepp Road on the west, to the intersection of Fairfield Street and State Highway 33 to the east.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources say emergency responders are working to evacuate people who live along Levee Road in both Columbia and Sauk Counties.

The DNR had been monitoring the levee on a 24/7 basis since the river reached a major flood point, starting late Saturday afternoon.

Emergency staff was called off the levee, and is now monitoring it from a safer distance.

Experts say flood waters caused erosion on the levee, making it weaker.

After rising Wisconsin River levels raised flooding concerns in Columbia County, things were starting to return to normal in Portage on Sunday.

Several roads along the river remained closed and evacuation recommendations were still in place, but officials expected the river to start receding later Sunday.

The Wisconsin River reached 20 feet Sunday afternoon in Portage, only a few inches below a record high water level set in 2010.

"This is higher than usual," said Ed Culhane, a spokesperson with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. "What we’re seeing here now is the result of rain and melting snow that occurred earlier."

Homes along Levee Rd. in Portage were evacuated Saturday, and some houses had water levels rise around them Sunday, but officials expect those levels to go down quickly.

"We're thinking this is about as high as it's going to get," Culhane said.

The DNR has been monitoring the levees in Portage as well as the river levels.

"Once it's crested, we think it'll start going down based on what's happening upstream," Culhane said. "For instance, dams upstream have been holding back a little bit of water and then trying to move it downstream in a more controlled manner to keep the pressure less on the levees."

For those residents displaced by the flooding, the American Red Cross set up a shelter Saturday night at the Portage United Methodist Church.

"We have one client now and we have the ability to help her recover and get her into more appropriate housing than a shelter and a cot," said Burlie Williams, a disaster program manager with the Red Cross.

It seems the worst has passed, but the DNR said they will continue to monitor the river into next week, in case anything changes.

"We'll be here today and definitely into tomorrow as things, hopefully watching the river recede. Once it gets down to a safe level, then we'll close up shop," Culhane said.

As of Sunday evening, it is unclear when evacuated residents can get back to their homes. No officials from Columbia County Emergency Management responded to NBC15's request for information.

For anyone needing help because of the flooding, the Red Cross Shelter in Portage will be open until 4 p.m. Monday.