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.


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.


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


17 Responses to “Part I: Tina’s story, surviving the Hammond, Minnesota, flood”

  1. vicki Says:

    My house is on the first picture. We’ve been devastated. Thank you for someone telling our story down here in Hammond. You know when you see a story on the news when someone loses everything, it only takes a second, then they go on to the next story…..we should all think about when someone loses everything. I am as guilty as everyone, but I have learned a hard life’s lesson and won’t think that way again.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Sometimes it does take going through an experience to truly understand and empathize. I’ve been through such difficult situations myself, which have made me a better and more compassionate person.

      That said, I’ve never suffered the devastating loss of my home like so many in Hammond. I cannot even imagine.

      I am determined that your voices will be heard, that your community will not be forgotten. To the Hammond residents who have worked with me and allowed me to share your stories, thank you.

      • vicki Says:

        Thank you for helping us get our story told. We are trying to muddle through all of the confusing bureaucracy that has surrounded us since the very first days. We have been told so many contradicting answers, it is just overwhelming. I am so happy that there are more lights on in Hammond, it’s comforting to know that, but sad because our lights won’t be on also. I always enjoyed having extra lights on-like for Halloween and of course, Christmas, too! (Have you seen Christmas Vacation?) My husband lived there almost 50 years and me and my kids for 25…my 4-year-old grandson misses the house in Hammond, too. He once asked me “What was God thinking when he put all that rain in your house?” The abstract for my house has Joseph Hammons’ name on it, he was the founding father of Hammond! It’s an interesting document. I should try to preserve it. Thank you all for your support.

  2. Bernie Says:

    Vicki, I’m sorry about your loss. I can’t even imagine what it must be like for you and the others in your town.

    Audrey, Thank you for sharing all these stories. I have learned more about the flood since I started reading your blog. You are really helping to get these stories out to people who many not know or understand just how bad it was. I look forward to reading the rest of Tina’s story.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I think it takes personalizing a story to make an impact. With Minnesota on the cusp on spring flooding, I hope readers will pause to think about the personal stories and tragedies behind the headlines.

      Likewise, I want readers to realize that those affected by last spring’s flash floods still need our help.

  3. Audrey,

    I have been following the plight of the residents in Hammond as well as in Zumbro Falls ever since this tragedy began. Many years ago, I held the City Clerk position in Hammond for four years and then Mayor for two, and then later moved to Zumbro Falls and owned a business on Main Street where my husband and I lived in the apartment above.

    In 2002 we sold the building and moved up north, however I still maintained a storage unit there in Zumbro Falls full of antique wicker and other furniture, business reference books and more that was all lost in the flood.

    And although I lost a considerable amount of inventory and irreplaceable antiques, it’s nothing in comparison to what the residents of these two towns have lost and have to contend with for many years to come.

    I have tried to publicize this as much as possible through my blog, Facebook Page and profile, and even through my chair caning forum to help get more funding and to alert everyone about this terrible event.

    Thanks to Hammond resident, Susie Buck, whom I’ve stayed in close contact with via Facebook, I found your blog post today. I will be happy to continue to spread the word and link your blog in as many ways possible in order to help as much as I can.

    Mike Mann and my son Hans (Will) Peters were good friends in school, so reading Tina’s journal of this through your blog posts, has been difficult. I did go visit friends and family in Hammond when we were down there clearing out the remains of my storage unit in ZF, and was shocked by the turmoil and devastation this flooding caused both communities.

    My prayers go out to all that had their lives so dramatically impacted by this and hope that healing and restoration comes soon.

    The Wicker Woman–Cathryn Peters
    1250 Hwy 25
    Angora, MN 55703

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thanks so much, Cathryn, for sharing your loss with the readers of Minnesota Prairie Roots. But, more importantly, thank you for your ongoing concern for the residents of Hammond and Zumbro Falls.

  4. Katie Shones Says:


    Once again, thankyou for the continued coverage of the September flood. At last count, 6 famillies have moved back to Hammond that were flooded out. When I drive down Main Sreet in the pre-morning dawn, it is so very comforting to see the yard light and house lights on at the Mann house. Hopefully, I will be seeing more lights, soon. Please keep spreading the word, Cathryn.

    Katie Shones

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      You’re welcome, Katie. I’m glad, too, to hear that Cathryn has also been telling others about the situation in Hammond and Zumbro Falls.

      So glad to hear more lights are on in Hammond these days.

  5. Sheri Ryan Says:

    I have a lot of “good” pictures of the flood (if that it what you can call them). Vicki is my mom, and I was with her the day that we got to go into the house for the first time. I video taped our first sights of the destruction. The water was so high (and forceful) it pushed an exercise ball inbetween the rafters in the ceiling as the water rushed through the house, it broke windows, smashed photos in their frames, emptied out the fridges & freezers, ripped the ceiling down, left a stool “resting” on the curtain rods and left behind a stench from the “flood mud” that my 4 year old still talks about.
    I can send you some photos (and see if I can the video) if you would like to “see” some more damage.

    Sheri (Hammer) Ryan

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Sheri, I look forward to seeing your photos. You’ve already painted some pretty vivid pictures with your descriptions. Thank you for offering to share these images, because sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.

  6. Hi, I’m a rural pastor and would like to help. We have an Americorp team coming to work May 19-June 4–they can’t legally work on the church, but they will be working on the grounds and helping in Zumbro Falls at the park, and we are looking for more work in the Hammond area so that their two weeks will be profitable for all parties. I am not sure how to get a hold of Tina Marlowe, if you could pass this on, I would love to get a hold of her and see if the team can come down and work in Hammond for part of the two weeks. They also need some inside work to do–in homes or businessess. Thanks Colleen

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I’ve forwarded your offer regarding flood recovery help in Hammond on to Tina Marlowe and my main contact in Hammond, Katie Shones.

      Thank you so much for thinking of the folks in Hammond. I’m pretty certain they can find plenty for AmeriCorps volunteers to do in their community.

  7. Katie Shones Says:

    Thank you so much, Colleen, for your generous offer of help! I will pass this information onto the volunteer coordinator for Lutheran Social Services in Hammond. The sheer volume of hours already put in by volunteers to help with the flood recovery is amazing and deeply appreciated. Audrey, again, thanks for the continued coverage of the flood.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Yes, thank you, Colleen, for thinking of the folks in Hammond and their continuing efforts to recover from last fall’s flash flood.

      And, Katie, you’re most welcome. I believe in helping others and this blog offers a way to do that.

  8. zarconedesign Says:

    Beautiful heartwarming story of triumph over adversity. My previous post was based solely on the photos I saw and not the blog. I’m happy I found the blog and could get to read Tina’s Story.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Tina’s story is remarkable. She’s a strong, strong woman, indeed. And I’m glad she chose to share her story with all of us.

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