Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Part I: Tina’s story, surviving the Hammond, Minnesota, flood March 13, 2011

EDITOR’S NOTE: With the heavy snowfall in Minnesota this winter, residents are eying our state’s rivers, watchful and concerned about spring flooding that is all but imminent. Some forecasters are predicting the worst flooding in 35 years. With that in mind, I bring you the first in a series of posts about one family displaced last September by a flash flood in southeastern Minnesota. Read what it’s like to live through such a natural disaster and ponder what may lie ahead for many other Minnesotans.

I HAVE NEVER MET Tina Marlowe of Hammond.

But I can tell you this strong woman impresses me with her resilience and positive attitude.

Tina and her family survived the September 2010 flash flood that ravaged their southeastern Minnesota community, displacing nearly all 230 residents. In January I e-mailed Tina, a good friend of Katie Shones of Hammond whom I’d met two weeks after the flood. I expected a brief response from Tina. I got, instead, a 4 ½-page e-mail that brought me to tears.

I promised Tina then that I would share her story because it needs to be heard. She speaks with a strong voice, edged with raw, honest emotion. She speaks from the heart and with the soul of someone who will not allow this setback, this destruction of her home and upheaval in her life, to get her down.

And so we begin Tina’s story, some of it condensed, other parts unedited. I’ll bring her story to you in installments. Ponder her words. Consider how you would handle what Tina has been through in the past five months. And then, if you are moved to action, do what you can to help the residents of Hammond and nearby Zumbro Falls, who are still reeling financially and emotionally from the devastating floods of September 2010.

 

The river bank is to the left of the garage in the very left of this photo. The 100-plus-year-old former Hammond House Hotel on the right saw floodwaters reach the ceiling on the first floor. Its owners had never seen the river so high. They are not returning to their home. This photo was taken at 7:30 a.m. on Friday, September 24, 2010, by Hammond resident Susie Buck.

THE BACKGROUND: TINA’S HOME

Two years ago, as the economy worsened, Tina and her fiancé, Micheal Mann, and two children moved to Hammond, into the home of Mike’s parents, Bob and Cathy Mann. In the spirit of “taking care of family,” Tina says they could survive more comfortably if they lived together. So they have, in an early 1900s house which the elder Manns have called home for three decades. They finished remodeling and updating just two years ago. The house sits in the 500-year flood plain along First Street, the second street west of the Zumbro River bridge on one of the highest elevations on the “low” side of Hammond.

Their house should have been “safe” from floodwaters, even more so because it is elevated three feet above the ground.

However, the basement was engulfed in water and the main level was flooded with 3 – 4 inches of water rushing in from the Zumbro River.

The family was displaced for three months and moved back home shortly after Christmas.

 

A view of Bridge Street (Wabasha County Road 6) taken from County Road 11 that runs through Hammond at 7:30 a.m. Friday, September 24, 2010. Photographer Susie Buck once lived with her family in the white house on the right when they moved to Hammond on September 24, 1961. In the spring of 1962, the family had to move from their rental home due to flooding. Susie was only two years old at the time. She heard stories from her parents about the water level rising in the basement as they were trying to remove the water heater. In the September 2010 flood, the water rose well above the windows on the main floor.

THE EVACUATION

Tina and her family got orders on Friday, September 24, Micheal’s birthday, to leave their home due to the rising floodwaters.

Here’s their evacuation story, in Tina’s words, beginning with events on Thursday, September 23:

“Although Bob (Mann) told me he has seen the river this high before and was reassuring me that it would crest soon and we would not see any flood water, I was starting to have my doubts.

I went home and cooked dinner. After dinner we walked down to the bridge to check the river and our friend’s land on Bridge Street was starting to flood, which wasn’t too unusual. But, by 11 p.m. the water was rising faster—rather than receding—and finally some sandbags and the Elgin Fire Department showed up.

Mike and I helped with sandbagging until about 1 a.m. At that point I had been awake for nearly 30 hours. Mike looked at me and said, ‘I’m tired and you’re tired, we have to go get some sleep. We may have a long day tomorrow.’

 

A view of the raging Zumbro River, looking from the west side of Hammond to the east at 7:30 a.m. on Friday, September 24, 2010. Floodwaters eventually destroyed the gravel road on the east side of the river and flooded homes and businesses. The canoe landing on the east side is also totally engulfed in floodwaters. Photo by Hammond resident Susie Buck.

 

 

Logs jammed against the bridge in Hammond. Water completely covered the bridge during the flood. Photo by Jenny Hoffman.

When we got to the bridge on Friday morning, the water was hitting the rafters under the bridge and whole trees where coming down the river, crashing into the bridge. It was terrifying to feel our bridge shake beneath our feet. We could not get down to the bar or cross town. The river had sliced right through Hammond, dividing us into east and west.

We could tell by the rage of the river that it was not finished yet and Mike and I decided to get home and run to Rochester to get supplies for the day ‘before we can’t get out of here at all.’ As we were walking home, the flood water was literally following us up Main Street right to our house.

As we rounded the corner of our house the fire department met us at the front door informing us of the mandatory evacuation and we were advised that we had 15 minutes to move our vehicles to high ground, grab essentials and pets, and get out before the water trapped us.

We did that, and rescued our neighbor who was still sleeping, exhausted from sandbagging all night. We drove my 4WD Jeep through over three feet of water. In that jeep we had five adults, two children, one full-grown rottweiler, two cats, some clothes for each of us, and a white wedding dress. We left one cat behind (we couldn’t catch him in time) and a fish, and we had no idea when we would be back. Happy Birthday Mike…”

CHECK BACK FOR FUTURE installments as Tina tells how her family and community were affected by the flood and where they’re at today.

Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling