Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Preparing for the floods, which haven’t arrived, yet, anyway March 25, 2011

Xcel Energy sandbagged its electrical substation near the Straight River in preparation for spring flooding. See the green, fenced enclosures next to the building. Last fall this substation flooded during a flash flood.

UNLESS THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE changes its forecast, a flood warning that covers Rice County expires at 3:30 p.m. Friday.

That’s good news for Faribault, where residents and officials have been nervously watching the rising, and now receding, Cannon and Straight Rivers that run through town.

Six months ago, those rivers rushed over their banks during a September flash flood, threatening homes and businesses and actually flooding some. Sewage also backed up in to homes and the city’s wastewater treatment plant was compromised. Because of the sudden nature of that flood, my community was not fully prepared.

This spring, though, following a winter of heavy snowfall and then a quick snow melt, officials had emergency plans in place to deal with possible flooding. They had even recruited students to fill sandbags, stockpiled at a local park for residential use.

They were ready. Ready is good.

Better to be safe than sorry.

Here’s a look at some river and preparedness scenes I shot near the Cannon and Straight Rivers Wednesday evening.

If we don’t get another major storm—rain or snow— and the weather stays cold, slowing the snow melt, I think we should be OK here in Faribault, meaning no need to worry about flooding.

But then that can change on a dime, and I’ve heard predictions of another possible river crest next week.

And so we wait…prepared.

Student volunteers and others filled sandbags, available to residents who needed them. These were stockpiled at South Alexander Park by the Cannon River when I shot this image Wednesday evening.

River waters rise close to Faribault Foods. Last fall floodwaters reached as far as the overhead doors.

The Straight River encroaches on Faribault's Water Reclamation Plant, which now appears "safe" from floodwaters.

A sandbagged utility area along the Straight River by the viaduct and Teepee Tonka Park on Faribault's east side.

CLICK HERE to view images from last September’s flash flood in Faribault, comparing the situation then to today. River levels are much lower than six months ago.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Watching the Straight River in Faribault March 24, 2011

The river watcher points to the Straight River that has flooded Teepee Tonka Park and tells me how much the water has already gone down. The park often floods in the spring.

DAILY HE’S TREKKED across town from his north-side home to the downtown area and then crossed the bridge to check on the river.

I met him early Wednesday evening near the banks of the Straight River at Faribault’s east-side Teepee Tonka Park.

We didn’t waste time on chit chat, didn’t even introduce ourselves. We simply talked about the river and flooding and how he’s driven here daily recently to watch the river rise.

We look from the bridge toward flooded Teepee Tonka Park, where waters have already begun to recede.

He has reason for concern. During last September’s flash flood in Faribault, sewage backed up into his home from the sanitary sewer causing $15,000 in damages. He doesn’t live on a river. The Rice County Fairgrounds on one side, buildings and land on the other across a roadway, sit between his home and the Cannon River. His 20th Street Northwest home is buffered from the rivers, the Cannon nearest his home and the Straight that joins it nearby, flowing north past Teepee Tonka where he’s kept a watchful vigil.

He was optimistic, though, on Wednesday evening, telling me the Straight River had crested that afternoon and gone down. He wasn’t worried. The water was no where near the level during last fall’s flash flood. I could see that and so could he.

We turned away from the park bridge, toward the viaduct, to check the river level.

The Straight River has stayed mostly inside its banks near the historic viaduct.

And so I left this river watcher, braving the slippery, iced sidewalk to step onto the park bridge and peer into the raging waters of the Straight River.

The river watcher turns and walks back to his post on the bridge.

I leave the river watcher peering over the bridge at the churning Straight River.

CHECK BACK for more river images from Faribault.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Flood updates from southern Minnesota March 23, 2011

AS YOU WOULD EXPECT, Minnesotans are keeping a close watch on rising rivers, creeks and streams as rain and snow continue to fall across much of our state.

Here in Faribault, sandbagging has begun at the wastewater treatment plant, which flooded during last September’s flash flood. Sandbags have been filled and are available to property owners. The city has an emergency plan in place to deal with any flooding.

Faribault officials are working to protect the city's water reclamation plant which sits along the Straight River and which was flooded in a September 2010 flood. This photo is from September 2010.

Thankfully, the precipitation—rain, sleet and then snow overnight—have stopped in Faribault.

Further to the south, I’ve heard from Katie Shones of Hammond, a Wabasha County village nestled along the Zumbro River. Last September Hammond and nearby Zumbro Falls were devastated by the same flash flood that occurred in Faribault.

Katie updated me just this afternoon on the situation in Hammond. “So far, no sandbagging in the area,” Katie writes. “We are under a flood warning in Wabasha County, just as much of southern Minnesota. The Zumbro is high, but it is still contained in its banks. People are watching the river closely as you can well imagine.”

Looking down on Hammond during the September 2010 flash flood. Photo courtesy of Hammond residents Micheal Mann and Tina Marlowe.

Sadly, yesterday the spring floods claimed the life of a Minnesota Department of Transportation worker who was swept away by floodwaters after his backhoe tipped into Seven Mile Creek, which feeds into the Minnesota River. The accident happened between Mankato and St. Peter along U.S. Highway 169 when Michael Struck 39, of Cleveland, was attempting to clean out flood debris, according to an article in The Free Press, Mankato. His body was found today in Seven Mile Creek County Park.

Please be careful out there, and if you have any reports you would like to share about flood preparedness, flooding or other weather in your area of Minnesota, please submit a comment.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


As rain and snow fall, the flood threat rises in Minnesota March 22, 2011

The view from my front window at 8 a.m. today as sleet pelted Faribault.

I AWOKE THIS MORNING to a world of gray and white and sleet pelting in sheets against the windows.

So much for spring…

When I plucked the The Faribault Daily News from the front steps, shook off the water droplets soaking the paper’s plastic sleeve, removed and opened the paper, I read this headline: STILL RISING—National Weather Service declares flood warning for Rice County as Straight River closes in on 10 feet.

And so the spring flood season has begun here in Minnesota with road closures in the Henderson area southwest of the Twin Cities, between Windom and Fulda in southwestern Minnesota and probably other places of which I am unaware.

Here in Faribault, officials are keeping a close eye on the rising Straight and Cannon Rivers. Sandbags are filled and plans are in place to put them in place should the need arise. Of major concern is the riverside wastewater treatment plant which was flooded during a flash flood last September. During that flood six months ago, many homes and some businesses were inundated with floodwaters. A local riverside park, which often floods in the spring, was also under feet of water.

Upon checking the National Weather Service Twin Cities, MN., website map, I see most of the southern half of Minnesota falls under a flood warning.

For the north, winter storm and blizzard warnings have been issued. The last I heard, several inches of snow are expected to fall in my area sometime today and/or into tomorrow.

A car passes by my home at 8 a.m. as heavy sleet fell. Sleet also pelted Faribault during the night.

Rain continues to fall here as we approach the noon hour with temperatures hovering several degrees above freezing.

Personally, I’ve been affected by this wet weather with some minor water seeping into a corner of the basement—enough to soak up, move belongings and turn on the fans. It’s a hassle, but certainly nothing compared to the issues some folks will face as the snow and rain fall and the rivers rise.

PLEASE SUBMIT a comment with any information you have about rising rivers/creeks/streams and/or flooding in your area of Minnesota. I would like to share your stories with Minnesota Prairie Roots readers.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Navigating through flood-damaged Teepee Tonka Park October 5, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:34 AM
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UNDERNEATH MY FEET the ground felt spongy, earth saturated with too much water. So when I could skirt the matted-down, unstable lawn, I did. I moved onto the sand, sculpted across the ball field where once there had been grass.

Sand sweeps across a ball field at Teepee Tonka Park.

This is Teepee Tonka Park in Faribault, some 10 days after torrential rains caused the Straight River to rise and inundate this city park. Situated next to the river on the city’s east side, this low-lying park is prone to spring flooding.

But this time the floodwaters swept across Teepee Tonka in a rare autumn flood, wreaking havoc on a park that is now closed for the season due to all the damage.

Sunday afternoon I walked across the bridge, which just 10 days earlier had been covered by rushing Straight River waters that rose an estimated 10 feet. It seemed nearly improbable to me that the waters could already have receded this much, back into the confines of the river channel.

During the flood, the Straight River flooded the bridge into Teepee Tonka Park.

Waters have receded, allowing entry across the bridge into Teepee Tonka Park.

As I walked across the park, across the grass flattened to the earth, across ballpark fences slammed to the ground by the powerful floodwaters, past bleachers swung into awkward, out-of-place positions, I marveled at the force of nature. Imagine how impressed I would be with buildings shoved by the angry river.

Floodwaters twisted and flattened ballpark fences, swirled bleachers and redeposited sand.

A displaced dead tree limb in the ball field.

But on this Sunday afternoon, calmness prevailed. A young boy dug, with his parents, in piles of sand, for earthworms. And nearby, within its banks, the Straight River, which is misnamed given its winding path, flowed strong and steady.

During the flood, the Straight River rose over the Teepee Tonka bridge in the foreground and overflowed its banks underneath the viaduct in the background.

I shot this image of the Straight River from the Teepee Tonka bridge Sunday afternoon.

Floodwaters have receded from under the viaduct just outside Teepee Tonka Park.

I took this photo during the flood, when the Straight River overflowed its banks under the viaduct.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Faribault flooding update September 24, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:48 PM
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Under the viaduct, in an area that is typically dry land, the Straight River has spilled outside its banks.

THE ANGRY RIVER DRAWS me, as close as I dare walk to the raging waters. I cannot stay away. For the third time in 24 hours, I have moved in close, taken photos, captured in digital format this history, this flooding of Faribault that I am witnessing.

I am not alone. Residents, young and old, are drawn to the water. Dads bring their children, clasp their hands tightly, keeping them safe from the muddy, churning waters. An old man hobbles to the edge of the Straight River under the viaduct, lifts his cane and points. Others flip open their cell phones, snap images.

A man snaps a photo with his cell phone of the floodwaters under the viaduct.

The Straight River runs through TeePee Tonka Park, a low-lying area prone to flooding. Here water covers the WPA bridge leading into the park.

As the sun begins to slide in the sky, glaring across the water’s surface, I take photos. I climb the hill and stairs to the viaduct, intending to shoot a bird’s eye view of the flooded river far below. But, because I am afraid of heights, I cannot force myself to walk onto the bridge and I turn around.

A few blocks away, I slip past the barriers barricading Ravine Street near Faribault Dairy on the banks of the Straight River. I walk past the bright orange sign that warns DANGER RAW SEWAGE SPILL.

A warning sign on closed Ravine Street near Faribault Dairy.

A company employee outfitted in blue and wearing knee high waders guards the entry to the cheese plant. I figure he might give me some information. But he says only, “Everything’s secure and under control. That’s all I can tell you.” He suggests I check a Web site and then says I need to move back, on the other side of the sidewalk line that separates public property from private. My toes are only inches across the line, but he has his orders and I respect those.

An employee guards the entry to Faribault Dairy, which makes my favorite blue cheese, among other cheeses.

Near the wastewater treatment plant, I cannot believe how much the Straight River has risen in 24 hours. Water now skims the bottom of the bridge. The plant is nearly submerged.

Water has flooded into the wastewater treatment plant along the Straight River.

Water skims the bottom of the bridge across the Straight River on 14th St. N.E. by the wastewater treatment plant.

There I meet a young man who tells me that his sister was getting ready to move into the home she purchased about a year ago right next to the viaduct. She’s been redoing the house. But the Straight River overflowed, flooded the basement with three feet and seven inches of water, he says. With three sump pumps working, the water has now receded to 27 inches.

The basement of this house near the Straight River by the viaduct was flooded with 43 inches of water.

By the Faribo Woolen Mill, I duck under yellow police tape to view the flooding of the Cannon River. As I walk onto the Second Avenue N.W. bridge—the road is closed—I wonder for a moment if this bridge could be swept away like the one in Oronoco. The water is that fast, that scary.

Then, as I leave, a cop car arrives and I think that I’ve left just in time. I know I should not have crossed the yellow tape. But, like all the others who have come to see this moment in history, I cannot stay away.

The Cannon River has risen to bridge level on Second Avenue N.W. by the Woolen Mill Dam.

The Cannon River has risen perhaps 15 feet next to the former Faribo Woolen Mill building, which snuggles against the river by the dam.

Water covers portions of Second Avenue N.W. and land by Faribault Foods.

A scene on Second Avenue N.W. near Faribault Foods.

These photos were taken between 5:30 – 6:45 p.m. Friday evening.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Flooding in Faribault, day two

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:11 AM
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The American Legion and Heritage Place businesses, a block from downtown, are surrounded by flood waters.

WE ARE IN TO DAY TWO OF FLOODING here in Faribault, where an emergency was declared last evening by Mayor John Jasinski.

The Cannon and Straight rivers have overflowed their banks in areas. Crews have been sandbagging some homes and businesses. Several streets are closed, including a portion of Second Avenue N.W. where the road crosses the Cannon River. This is a main arterial route through the city.  An electrical substation is flooded. The wastewater treatment plant is threatened.

We’ve been instructed to limit water usage and to avoid unnecessary travel around town.

In the 28 years I’ve lived in the Faribault area, I have never seen the rivers this high.

Except for a two-hour power outage this morning, my family remains unaffected. Our home lies several blocks from the Straight River, but we have no reason to worry.

Here are some photos I shot shortly after 7 this morning.

Crews have sandbagged Boston's Restaurant along Minnesota Highway 60. The parking lot is under water.

Another image of Boston's, a popular Faribault restaurant near the Straight River.

Motorists pulled off Minnesota Highway 60 near the viaduct to photograph floodwaters and Boston's.

Water pooled in a low area near the viaduct and into Boston's parking lot.

An electrical substation and Lockerby Sheet Metal near the Straight River are surrounded by floodwaters.

Just another shot of the flooding around Lockerby.

Heritage Place businesses are surrounded by water.

Flooding at the American Legion, which sits at the bottom of a hill and not far from the Straight River.

Numerous roads around Faribault are closed like this one by the Legion.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Flooding in Faribault September 23, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:42 PM
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Sometime between 6 - 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Second Avenue N.W. in Faribault, where it crosses the Cannon River, was closed. Two dams are located next to this stretch of now flooded roadway.

“AREN’T YOU GLAD it isn’t snow?” my husband asks as I review his summary of rain gauge totals from our backyard in southern Faribault:

  • 2.7 inches from 6 p.m. Sept. 22 to 8 a.m. Sept. 23
  • 1.6 inches from 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. Sept. 23
  • Plus whatever rain fell before 6 p.m. Sept. 22, an estimated 1 – 1 ½ inches

We are swimming in water here and the rain continues to fall.

Earlier this evening we toured the town—yes, we were gawkers—and found swollen rivers and closed roads. Four-lane Second Avenue N.W., as it crosses the Cannon River, was flooded with four inches of water and down to two lanes when Randy drove across the bridge around 6 p.m. A half hour later, officials had closed the street.

Near the blocked road and behind the former Faribo Woolen Mill, we met a homeowner in hip waders waiting for the city to deliver sandbags to his riverside home. His property hadn’t flooded yet, but he was worried. He’s lived there since 1985 and never seen the river so high, he says.

Nor have we. Randy has lived here for 32 years. I’ve been here for 28.

Standing atop a bridge on the north end of Faribault, I snapped images of the rushing Straight River. Even from the safety of the road, I felt unsettled, watching as the muddy waters churned and roiled and rushed away, edging away from the constraints of the rain-logged banks.

The rain is expected to continue into Friday.

A view of the raging Straight River from a bridge on the north end of Faribault.

Second Avenue N.W., which crosses the Cannon River, was blocked at Faribault Foods.

The Straight River spilled over its banks into a parking lot and loading dock area at Faribault Foods.

The Cannon River overflowed its banks behind the former Faribo Woolen Mill. Next door, to the left in this photo, a homeowner awaited sandbags to protect his home.

In South Alexander Park, the Cannon River spilled onto park land.

Along Ravine Street, crews kept a watchful eye on the Straight River.

Flood waters caused the closing of a portion of Heritage Place at Heritage Park.

Officials closed flooded TeePee Tonka Park near the Straight River viaduct in the central part of Faribault.

The Straight River on the north end of Faribault continues to rise.


Most of these photos were taken through the windows of a car in fading daylight.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling



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