Inventor's device helps save his own flooded neighborhood

Stacey Babiarz created the sandbag-filling Bucket Bagger after Hurricane Katrina - never expecting that it would one day be needed to protect homes in his own Wisconsin neighborhood.

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Stacey Babiarz with his Bucket Bagger, on Lake Koshkonong.

(Fortune Small Business) -- On any normal day of the year, Stacey Babiarz runs a small welding shop and storage business with his family. But the last eight days in Edgerton, Wisc., have been anything but normal: Babiarz, creator of a device that rapidly fills sandbags to hold back floodwaters, has been putting his invention to work in his own backyard.

Like the rest of the Midwest, southern Wisconsin is facing massive flooding caused by record rainfall. With damage estimates already running into the millions of dollars, everyone is frantically filling sandbags, trying to shore up their properties and keep the water out.

It's a time-consuming and laborious effort - one made significantly easier and faster thanks to the Bucket Bagger, an invention Babiarz patented shortly after Hurricane Katrina. The Bucket Bagger allows 30-pound bags to be filled with sand in around six seconds.

Babiarz typically sells the device for $5,400, but right now he's giving them away to his neighbors and friends around Lake Koshkonong. His hometown newspaper, the Janesville Gazette, has dubbed him a local hero.

Kandi Swanson, owner of Lakeview Lodge and Campground in Milton, Wisc., used the Bucket Bagger to fill and pack more than 3,000 sandbags around her barn and cottage after the floods started June 12.

"After we shoveled sand for a good four hours, I was introduced to Stacey across the lake," said Swanson, who had six-feet deep water around her cottage on Friday. "He was a tremendous help. A lot of the homeowners here are older, and it was hard to see them struggle shoveling sand."

Babiarz has also created a staging area near Lake Koshkonong so locals could pick up sandbags, and coordinated the community-wide effort to protect homes from the rising water.

"I don't know how many countless homes we helped save," Babiarz said, choking up. "But I never dreamed I would become my own best customer."

During the flooding, Babiarz says he and a volunteer crew have been producing about 2,500 sand bags an hour. Whenever he can spare a moment, Babiarz takes a trailer load over to his own home, around which he has built a 6-foot-tall wall. He's optimistic his lakeside house will survive if the water level crests Saturday morning, as officials have announced.

Out of the approximately 50 homes Babiarz and volunteers have blocked with sandbag barricades, five have been completely destroyed, he says.

Cities along the Rock River, downstream from Lake Koshkonong, have also flooded, and officials estimate the damage has surpassed $42 million. The Federal Emergency Management Agency estimated damages in Dane County, where Babiarz lives, to exceed $10 million.

"It makes me want to cry both ways," Babiarz says. "Cry out of happiness to be part of helping, and cry for the ones we lost." To top of page

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