Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Recovering from the Hammond flood, in the voice of a survivor September 23, 2011

FOR THE PAST YEAR, Katie Shones has been my main connection to Hammond, the southeastern Minnesota community of 230 flooded one year ago today by the raging waters of the Zumbro River.

Katie and her family—husband Scott and children Bekah and Romie—live just across Wabasha County Road 11 from the Zumbro. The floodwaters came within mere feet of their home on the east end of Hammond’s business district.

Katie Shones and her family live in this house, photographed during the September 2010 flood by Gene Reckmann.

Even though the family’s home was spared, they were still deeply impacted by the flood, especially the Shones children.

I offered Katie the opportunity to reflect on the flood and its impact on this, the one-year anniversary. Her words are sure to move you. Katie is a woman who speaks her mind and tells it like it is. (Click here to read my first interview with her in October 2010.)

Through our months of corresponding, I’ve come more and more to appreciate the resilience and strength of individuals like Katie who’ve endured so much and yet find the silver lining in the most difficult of situations.

Main Street Hammond at the height of the September 2010 flood. Water was rushing over the sidewalk and into the basement of the gray house via the cellar doors. Katie Shones' house is only two lots away from the gray house. Photo by Gene Reckmann.

Here, then, are Katie’s words:

I DO NOT LIKE to think of that day nor the days immediately following the flood. I don’t like to look at pictures, either. I shudder at the thought of being evacuated from my home and the three-plus long weeks of the National Guard patrolling the town and enforcing a 6 p.m. curfew. Check points to enter the city, not being outside after 6 p.m….

The response of people to this tragedy has been overwhelming. Complete strangers have come into the town and surrounding areas and donated hundreds, no thousands, of man hours for clean up and rebuilding. Thousands of dollars of building materials were donated and installed in homes and businesses. Local restaurants provided delicious meals.

The flood has reaffirmed my belief that people are basically good and caring deep down inside.

I cannot sing praises high enough to Lutheran Social Services. Their aid to people was up and above the call of duty. Camp Noah, (for children who have survived a natural disaster) was a positive experience for my children. Bekah and Romie could talk about their feelings and express them through art, theater, crafts, etc. LSS still has an office in Hammond to assist people.

The parks are coming along beautifully. The baseball field is usable again and a new chain link fence has been installed around it and the basketball court. Flowering crabs have been planted in the boulevard of Main Street. I can’t wait until spring to see them bloom.

This photo by Carrie Hofschulte shows the Zumbro River raging across the bridge that connects east and west Hammond on Wabasha County Road 11.

FRUSTRATIONS. I believe there are 17 or 18 homes on the buy-out list. I am being told it will be another 18 months before the buy-out is complete. That will be 2 ½ years after the flood occurred. That is a long time to wait.

Some people are still making double payments. When those homes are demolished, it will significantly impact the tax structure of this town. What will happen to my property taxes? I also expect a dramatic increase in the water and sewer bill. We already pay about $100 a month for water and sewer…

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. Photo by Susie Buck.

I CERTAINLY RESPECT Mother Nature more now than prior to Sept. 23, 2010!  The sheer force and power of the Zumbro River was unbelievable. We did not enjoy the river this year as in years past. Bekah and I only went tubing twice this year—last year we went 13 times in one week!  Scott and Jerome took the flat bottom out a few times in 2011. Not very often compared to years past.

However, there is a silver lining to this all. People have come together to help each other. The community is much closer knit than before. Neighbors that haven’t spoken to each other for a long time stop by to chat and visit. After Scott’s neck surgery last fall, I had many offers of help for snow removal and cutting and splitting of firewood. I don’t think as many people would have helped out prior to the flood as after.

Sheri Ryan shot this image of the same bridge, above, when the water had returned to its almost "normal" level.

BEKAH AND ROMIE STILL WORRY about flooding, especially when it downpours. They monitor the weather station almost every day and keep a close eye on the river level. Rebekah doesn’t cry out in her sleep anymore, thank goodness. The bags are still packed under her bed, though. Jerome doesn’t speak of that day often. I think he is like me, I try to forget it. However, I know they will never forget that day for the rest of their lives. (Click here to read an earlier post about the flood’s impact on Bekah and Romie.)

One more thing: The flood has taught me not to sweat the little things in life. Family, friends and faith are what is important in life.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling