Joe Taschler and Hannah Kirby, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Damage, some of it described as "catastrophic," was being reported Monday up and down southeast Wisconsin's Lake Michigan shoreline from Port Washington to Pleasant Prairie, the result of a powerful winter storm that struck the area during the weekend, officials said.
The Port of Milwaukee likely sustained "catastrophic" damage as the storm brought 50 mph winds that sent waves from a record-high Lake Michigan crashing onto shore.
The peak wind gusts during the storm were 54 mph at Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport, 58 mph in Racine and 55 mph in Kenosha, according to the National Weather Service.
Club members watch destruction
At the South Shore Yacht Club in Milwaukee, the bar on Saturday was fairly full, with folks watching the storm rage out on the lake, said Peter Engel, commodore of the club.
"I've been here 29 years and I've never seen anything this bad," Engel said. "There's some substantial damage. Parts of our docks have collapsed into the lake.
"It's going to be a pretty major project to put it all back together."
The wind-driven waves overwhelmed the break wall near the yacht club. Part of the break wall is just gone, Engel said.
"There were pretty big boulders out there and there are spots now where there is just nothing," he said.
South Shore Park had erosion damage and a nearby county fishing pier was destroyed, Engel said.
"Just about everything that is behind the breakwall in this area suffered damage," he said.
The South Shore Yacht Club bills itself as "the biggest, friendliest and most inclusive yacht club on Lake Michigan ..." and adds that ".. .no one has ever called us stuffy," according to its website. The club has about 650 members.
There are more than 200 boat slips at the club.
Engel said a damage estimate from the weekend storm has yet to be calculated.
"We're supposed to be getting some engineering companies in here this week to take a look at it," he said.
Conditions were right for the waves to do damage, Engel added.
"Those winds were out of the northeast. Those waves can build down the whole length of Lake Michigan before they hit us," Engel said. "They just get gigantic in those conditions."
The club had closed its boat slips for the season in October and no boats were damaged.
"We have insurance," Engel said. "We'll see if we have enough coverage."
The breakwall will almost certainly have to be rebuilt, Engel added, to protect the shore from storms such as Saturday's.
Engel said the damage to the club facilities will be repaired.
"We've been here 100 years. Our members will band together and we'll put it back together."
Port Washington sees damage
In Port Washington, about 25 miles north of Milwaukee, the break wall was overwhelmed by the storm.
About 10 feet of the breakwater walkway was destroyed and washed into the water, said Dennis Cherny, Port Washington's harbormaster. About 75 feet of the railing around the walkway was washed into a retaining pond.
"This is the worst I've seen that lake affect our break wall," said Cherny, who has been harbormaster for about 23 years and has lived in Port Washington for 73.
The affected area is blocked off from the public. Cherny said repairs will be made as soon as weather conditions allow.
The cost to fix the damage has not yet been determined.
Milwaukee port heavily damaged
Crews on Monday were continuing to assess damage at the Port of Milwaukee, said Adam Schlicht, the port director.
The port is a vital piece of the region's transportation infrastructure, handling imports and exports of everything from massive mining machines to salt to soybeans.
The port handles about 2 million tons of cargo every year.
About 60% to 70% of the port flooded during the storm, Schlicht said.
"The port's international docks and terminals, which are located in the outer harbor closest to Lake Michigan, received (most) of the damage and it's fairly catastrophic," Schlicht said.
"There has been dock wall infrastructure that has been significantly deteriorated," he added.
"I believe the damage will be in the millions of dollars."
The port was only partially open Monday.
A number of buildings and warehouses located along the docks were also damaged.
Some of the lake water froze in place.
"A lot of that standing water is in a freeze-thaw cycle," Schlicht said. "In some places in the port we have areas where there is up to a foot of ice."
Canadian Pacific and Union Pacific rail lines in the port have yet to reopen as a result of the flooding.
Discovery World OK
At the Discovery World Science and Technology Museum on Milwaukee's lakefront, the facilities maintenance supervisor decided to deploy a temporary rubber water barrier on Friday in anticipation of the storm.
As a result, "We were lucky. We had absolutely no damage," said Paul Fladten, director of public relations for the museum.
"His decision on Friday to install that dam saved us from any damage," Fladten said.
House teeters on shore
In the Village of Pleasant Prairie in Kenosha County, firefighters were called just before 4 p.m. Saturday to a house along the Lake Michigan shore that was in danger of collapsing into the lake after the powerful waves washed away much of the soil under the house and its foundation partially collapsed.
"We deemed it uninhabitable," said Sandro Perez, building inspection superintendent in Pleasant Prairie. "The home was not safe for someone to be living in."
Water, natural gas and electricity service were all disconnected.
"Our number one concern is occupant safety," Perez said. "First and foremost is protecting human life. Then we start worrying about the building.
"We'll keep an eye on it," he added.
Inspectors are also watching a house 30 feet south of the one that was damaged, Perez said.
A contractor was already on the scene over the weekend working on a plan to protect the shoreline of the second house. The home is being renovated.
"We'll be keeping an eye on that one, too," Perez said.
Another storm could be headed into the region for the coming weekend, the weather service said.