It was Tim and Liz Fromm’s dream house, on picturesque Lake Delton in central Wisconsin —built for vacations, but beautiful enough to become their permanent residence.
But it has all been washed away.
Flash flooding turned the usually serene lake into a churning river on Monday and ripped the Fromms’ home off its foundation. Swept away forever were unrecoverable keepsakes, leaving behind only a cruel reality — the Fromms did not have flood insurance.
“Everything that we have is gone,” Tim Fromm told TODAY co-host Matt Lauer Wednesday. “You can replace furniture and TVs and everything else. [But] it’s the memories. We have no pictures of our younger daughters anymore. We had binders and binders and books of all the kids growing up.”
Adding to the hardship was the Fromms’ feeling of helplessness. Their neighbors’ house had suffered the same fate when the embankment of the 245-acre man-made lake gave way. While a news video camera documented the loss of their home, Liz Fromm refused to watch it with her own eyes.
“It was just too hard,” she told Lauer, surrounded by daughters Amber, Ashley and Allie. “Knowing [it was coming] was hard enough. I didn’t want to see it. It was just too much.”
Timeline to tragedy
It was days of rainstorms that led Lake Delton to overflow. And given the considerable distance of Fromm’s home from the lake, the devastation was difficult for Tim Fromm to conceive of — at least until late Sunday night.
“We started to do some sandbagging, just as a precaution,” Fromm told Lauer. “They never really mentioned there was any imminent danger, but at about 12 [midnight] is when I had the family evacuate.
“My father came over at 1 [a.m.] and then, not knowing what could happen, we basically just started focusing on getting everything up to the second level. We had no thoughts at all that the place would ever be swept away.”
By the morning, however, it was just a matter of time before the Fromms’ home — built only five years ago — would fall victim to the flood.
Fromm spoke to Lauer from the muddy ground where his house once stood, estimating that he had only “one percent” of his property left. He pointed to a trough of about 60 feet that once was the flat surface of the lake.
The Fromms were not the only family to endure such severe damage. Three homes were washed away and two were ripped apart by the surging waters.
Lake Delton is also a popular tourist spot south of the Wisconsin Dells. Gov. Jim Doyle has promised the state will replenish the lake and its Department of Natural Resources is reportedly already studying how to do so.
But in the meantime, the Fromms and the other families affected by the floods did not have flood insurance. Tim Fromm said that, for his family, it wasn’t by choice.
The Village of Lake Delton had suspended its participation in the National Flood Insurance Program seven years ago. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ Bureau of Water Management reported that the village had been a participating member in the NFIP since 1975. But it failed to adopt a new floodplain required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 2001.
“So it’s not only us, but some close friends to the left of us have lost everything.”
Now it’s up to the family to somehow pick up the pieces. Fromm told Lauer that his family will live with his father nearby in the short term and ultimately move in with his brother’s family in Illinois.
“Basically, we have nothing,” he said. “For us, it was a second home and it’s now our permanent home. We still have a 23-year mortgage and we have no property and we have no possessions.”