Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

“Very angry” in flood-stricken Hammond October 11, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 4:33 PM
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Hammond's damaged city hall is closed and has been moved to St. John's Lutheran Church.


IN HAMMOND, Katie Shones steps onto the pavement, points to the spot only feet from the sidewalk that shows just how close floodwaters came to her home. Even though her house, just across Wabasha County Road 11 from the Zumbro River, escaped the raging waters by mere feet, she’s upset.

“I’m very angry,” Shones says. “Obama needs to get off his butt and declare it a disaster area.”

She contends that if this was the Twin Cities, with 80 percent of the houses affected by the flood like the 80 percent in Hammond, something would be happening.

“First it’s grief, then post traumatic stress and now people are getting angry,” Shones continues, her agitation increasing.

“It’s devastating. Winter’s coming. Where are these people going to live?” She’s worried about her friends and neighbors in this town of some 230.



A flood-damaged home and garage in Hammond.


Shones need only look across or down the street, toward the row of water-damaged businesses or to the heaps of ruined appliances or to the piles of tires or to the lined-up trash containers to understand the devastation.

She’s had enough. She wants help for her community. Now.



Destroyed appliances and more are piled at a collection point along Wabasha County Road 11 in Hammond.




H.C.C. Restaurant & Groceries was flooded by the Zumbro River.



The partially-gutted restaurant interior.



The exposed side of the restaurant/grocery, where a portion of a building once stood. The building lies in a heap now in the street.



The bank in Hammond has temporarily closed.



Trash cans line the street outside the Hammond Bar.



A child's toy lies among the tires and other rubble at a collection point in Hammond.


© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Jarrett, Hammond and Millville: “the forgotten ones”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 4:30 PM
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SITTING OUTSIDE the Salvation Army trailer in downtown Zumbro Falls on a sunny Sunday afternoon in October, flood survivor Susie Shones says, “We’re the forgotten ones.”

“We,” she defines, are the nearby small towns of Hammond and Millville and the unincorporated settlement of Jarrett just to the southeast. Up until the Zumbro River overflowed its banks in late September flooding her rental house with six feet of water, Shones called Jarrett home. Today she’s living with a brother-in-law in Millville. Six people in a two-bedroom house.

When the heavy rains came and the Zumbro River swelled, Shones says they were told at about 11 p.m. to get out of Jarrett. The women left and went to Rochester. But the men stayed behind to watch the rising water. At 4 a.m., she says, her husband called to say the water was “going up high.”

Soon they lost their home and her husband’s auto salvage yard, their gun collection, too, an anticipated income source upon retirement.

Today she wonders about her future and feels forgotten.


PER SUSIE SHONES’ suggestion, I headed south and east of Zumbro Falls toward Jarrett. But once I reached Wabasha County Road 11, I found the road closed. Not wanting to risk a hefty fine for traveling on a closed road, I never made it to Jarrett.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Worry, uncertainty prevail in flood-ravaged Zumbro Falls

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 4:28 PM
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Jackie demonstrates how her 2-year-old great grandson scrubbed muck from the side of Rod's Service & Motel after floodwaters inundated downtown Zumbro Falls.


LONG-TIME ZUMBRO FALLS resident Jackie sits on a bench outside her son Rod’s combination motel, car wash, convenience store and service station along Minnesota Highway 60, the town’s main drag in this flood-ravaged community.

“It (the late September flood) took away their whole livelihood,” she says, noting the ruined tools and machines inside the water-damaged complex. A horizontal black line and the word “water” mark the floodwater depth, about seven feet high inside this building.



Just to the left of the motel sign, a black line marks the water height.


Her son and his family lost their home, too. Jackie still has a home as she lives outside the flooded area.

“It (the floodwaters) took the whole town,” she concludes. “I don’t think anyone was spared.”

Not even her. A six-bedroom, two-story apartment building that she owns next to Rod’s Service, was filled with water. She had the apartment sold; final papers were due to be signed on September 30.



Jackie was set to close on the apartment building in the background, next to her son's service station complex, just days after the flood. The water rose to the point where the siding color changes. Jackie also noted that the dairy trailer (left) floated from behind the station and slammed into a fence to the left in this photo.


Surprisingly, 77-year-old Jackie isn’t bitter. “I wouldn’t wish this on anyone,” she says.

She’s lived here since 1958, never seen anything quite like the September 23/24 flooding of the Zumbro. Other times, the river “doesn’t quite get in your door,” she remembers. “But this time, boom!”

The flash flood gave residents no time to prepare.



A flood-damaged home along Water Street, a block off the main street.



Another home destroyed by the September flood.


Jackie appreciates the tremendous response from neighbors and volunteers—specifically naming high school juniors and seniors who came from nearby Lake City to help the residents of Zumbro Falls.



Flood clean-up volunteers are directed to the registration site in downtown.


Yet, the future of her community, of her son’s business, remains in limbo. “I don’t know at this rate if anyone knows where they stand.”

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The personal anguish in Zumbro Falls

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 4:23 PM
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“HOW ARE YOU FOLKS DOING?” I ask. In retrospect that seems like an idiotic question given the man, woman and an elementary-aged girl are working outside a flood-damaged home in Zumbro Falls.

But I don’t know what else to say and I genuinely do care about their welfare. The woman’s answer is unemotional and I can’t even tell you exactly what she said because her answer to my second question still burns.

“Is it OK if I take your picture?” I ask.

“I don’t want my picture anywhere,” she lashes out at me.

I do not expect this explosive reaction.

Then I turn my head toward the blonde-haired girl, who is sitting on the bumper of a pick-up truck to which a trailer is attached. I can’t even tell you what was in the trailer or the truck. But I remember that little girl’s face.

“You look sad,” I say, looking directly at her. She doesn’t respond. She just sits there.

At that moment, in that child’s face, I see the personal anguish, the fear, the devastation, the loss, that this late September flood has wreaked upon residents of this southeastern Minnesota community. The toll reaches far beyond the physical destruction of homes and businesses and possessions—including a trashed child’s red bicycle I’ve seen inside this family’s open garage.

This family is hurting. And as much as I wish this stressed-out woman had not taken her anger and frustration out on me, I understand.

There will be no photos of them, only my words, her anger, to show the tragic faces of this natural disaster.


The flood-damaged garage of the Zumbro Falls woman who would not allow me to photograph her.


© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Waiting on FEMA in Zumbro Falls

“WE’RE ALL REDNECKS,” she says.

But she doesn’t mean the term in a negative way. Rather Tracy Yennie implies that she and her neighbors in flood-ravaged Zumbro Falls are hard-scrabble, independent folks who are determined to stay put.

“The whole town is awesome. Everybody knows everybody,” says Yennie, who’s called this place home all 31 years of her life. Up until the September 23/24 floods, she and her family lived in a house several hundred yards from the Zumbro River along “the river road,” Wabasha County Road 68, just outside of town.

Since the flood deposited four feet of mud and cinder block in her basement leaving her home uninhabitable, she’s been camping—in a shed on her property—and waiting on FEMA. “They’re just dragging their feet. They’re not affected,” she says, the frustration in her voice palpable.

With winter approaching, she’s worried about where she—where anyone in this town—will live.

“This has been the most stressful two weeks of my life,” Yennie says as she hangs out next to the Salvation Army trailer, across the street from the fire hall/city hall turned command center on a Sunday afternoon.



Tracy Yennie hangs out in downtown Zumbro Falls.


For weeks now this mother of four boys, ages 2 – 9, has been sifting through her life, she says, trying to decide which of her belongings to keep and which to throw.

Early on, when she talked with her boyfriend on the phone as he watched the river rise and cross the road toward her home (she was out of town), she knew what was most important. She told him to save the baby pictures. But he couldn’t find them. Yennie later found the box of pictures buried in mud. She threw the photos in a bucket of water, dried and saved them.

She understands what can, and can’t, be replaced.

For the most part, Yennie sounds strong. But you can see the worry in her tired eyes and sometimes hear it in her voice, when the tough veneer cracks just a bit. “People are starting to get stressed,” she says, repeating that word, “stressed.”

She has no flood insurance. Few residents did. The town isn’t in a flood plain, she says.



A flood-damaged home in downtown Zumbro Falls.



The owner of this water-ravaged home along Minnesota Highway 60, the main route through Zumbro Falls, still has a sense of humor as Halloween approaches.


Despite all of her worries about the future, despite her anger at FEMA, Yennie is quick to praise the Red Cross, the church groups and others who have thronged to this community to assist flood victims.



A Red Cross Disaster Relief vehicle pulls into the command center at the fire hall Sunday afternoon.


Twenty-four men from Barron, Wisconsin, with Mennonite Disaster Services, came to her aid, helping with clean-up at her riverside home. She’s grateful to them.



Inside the Zumbro Falls fire hall, a Thank You Wall recognizes those who have helped with flood recovery.


Now, as Yennie ponders a question about life someday returning to “normal,” she laughs. “What’s normal?” she asks. “Normal is a setting on a washing machine.”



Trash containers line gutted businesses in downtown Zumbro Falls as the community works toward returning to "normal."


© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A trip to view the fall colors detours in Zumbro Falls


On Sunday afternoon my husband and I headed east on Minnesota Highway 60 to enjoy the fall colors. We intended to drive to Wabasha, then aim north toward Lake City and maybe Red Wing before returning home to Faribault.

Along the way, we stopped at Holden Lutheran Church near Kenyon so I could snap a few photos. We both appreciate old churches and would have lingered longer except the pastor was in the middle of his sermon and we didn’t want to enter the sanctuary and interrupt.



The Rev. Bernt Julius Muus, the founder of St. Olaf College in Northfield, was a pastor at Holden Lutheran Church near Kenyon. The congregation was organized in 1856 and this church was built in 1924.


From there, we drove to Zumbrota for a picnic lunch at the historic covered bridge.



The covered bridge in Zumbrota dates to 1869 and is promoted in Zumbrota as the only covered bridge in Minnesota. However, I am aware of another covered bridge, that one in Mantorville.


Then we resumed our Sunday afternoon drive, traveling briefly on U.S. Highway 52 before exiting onto Highway 60.

After passing through the town of Mazeppa, we reached Zumbro Falls, a community of less than 200 that was, just 2 ½ weeks ago, ravaged by the floodwaters of the Zumbro River.

We pulled our car a block off main street and parked. I grabbed my camera and notebook. And that was the beginning of the end of our planned afternoon to view the fall colors. Instead, we viewed homes and businesses extensively damaged by the flood. And we spoke to some of the people of Zumbro Falls before driving about five miles further to Hammond.

I am sharing their stories in a series of posts that I hope will help you better understand the devastation from a personal perspective. I could have spent many more hours talking to flood victims. I could have dug deeper. I could have taken more photos.

But I think my stories are emotional enough, deep enough, to convey the frustration, the anger, the resilience, the gratefulness of a community that is suffering.

Typically, I would publish these posts over a several-day span. However, these stories need to be told now. Not tomorrow. Not the day after. But today.

So, please, take time to walk with me through portions of Zumbro Falls and Hammond, where you’ll meet Tracy and Jackie and Susie and Katie. They are strong, opinionated women. I have no doubt they will overcome this present obstacle in their lives.

Yet, even though they are tough as nails, they still need our help, our prayers, our support.

Of all the questions I asked of them, I failed to ask the most important: “Is there anything I can do for you?”


PLEASE WATCH FOR these posts as I begin publishing them this afternoon. If you have thoughts to share, share them.

Although my Sunday afternoon did not go as I envisioned, I am thankful for the detour from the planned route. My eyes and heart were opened. I saw destruction and beauty—that beauty being the irrepressible strength of the human spirit.



Beautiful fall colors provided the backdrop for this pile of destroyed appliances and other debris in Hammond.


© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Kids in costume on Central

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:34 AM
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Costumed kids and their families walk down Central Avenue in Faribault.


THEY WERE, OH, so cute. What else can you say about kids—from babes to elementary-aged—dressed in costumes for a parade through downtown Faribault during Saturday’s Fall Festival?

You can only smile, as big and sunny as the autumn day that was absolutely, undeniably, gorgeous.

Singly or hand-in-hand they walked, or danced, or rode on dad’s shoulders, or slept in a stroller as they paraded down Central Avenue.

Fairy-princesses. Two Dorothys. A contingent of scarecrows and a lion, but no tin man (that I noticed). A pasty-faced skeleton. Kids role-playing, the center of attention for several blocks on the main street of a Midwestern town on a Saturday morning.

And then afterward, they scrambled for treasure in hay, stroked paint upon pumpkins and drew chalk art on pavement.

All the while parents and grandparents smiled and snapped photos on a stunning day that was more summer-like than autumn for the kids in costume on Central.



The wings of a little princess on parade.



Dragon rides.



A slumbering babe and doll, ride through the parade.



Winged princesses were by far the most popular characters.



Fifteen-month-old Erin dressed as a lion.



The ruby red slippers of one of two Dorothys.



Princess Isabella, 5, paints a pumpkin.



Faribault High School freshman Sagal of the Students Together Offering Peer Support, paints a heart on the face of Ariah, 4, in the kids' activities area on Central Avenue..



Kelsie, 3, paints a pumpkin after the costume parade.


© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling