Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Flood of paper work for Zumbro Falls city hall October 14, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:39 AM
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TALK ABOUT GOVERNMENT paperwork… well, you ought to see what I saw in flood-ravaged Zumbro Falls on Sunday afternoon. Scattered across the lawn and the patio of an uninhabitable home next to the combination fire hall and city hall, sheets and sheets and sheets of paper lay, weighted by stones, drying in the open air.

These documents, these papers (I resisted looking too closely), came from the city office.

Just steps away outside of city hall, which is a corner of the fire station, a woman sorted through stacks and stacks of dried city paperwork anchored by stones on a picnic table belonging to the Mazeppa Lions Club.

My first reaction to viewing this trail of paperwork: How trusting, how very trusting, to expose this government paperwork here, in the open, before the public eye. But that’s small-town Minnesota, where, for the most part, you can trust your neighbor and city hall.


This concludes my series of stories on the aftermath of flooding in Zumbro Falls and Hammond, which were especially hard-hit by late September flooding. Interestingly enough, I had written this post earlier yesterday, before President Barack Obama issued a disaster declaration for 21 Minnesota counties, including my home county of Rice and Wabasha, where the featured towns are located.

As I understand the declaration—and I don’t pretend to know the nuances of how this works—funding will now be available to state and local governments and some non-profit groups in the flood-stricken counties.

Aid for individuals and businesses affected by floodwaters is not included in the declaration. That leaves me wondering about the men and women and families in Zumbro Falls and Hammond, and all of the other impacted communities.

To Tracy, Jackie, Susie and Katie, the four women whom I interviewed (see my previous posts), I encourage you to hold on. You’ve already shown incredible strength. Thank you for allowing me to share your stories and your opinions with the readers of Minnesota Prairie Roots. You are, indeed, strong women.

A building marked as uninhabitable in downtown Zumbro Falls, photographed on October 10.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Worry, uncertainty prevail in flood-ravaged Zumbro Falls October 11, 2010

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


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


Flood clean-up help needed in Faribault and surrounding area September 30, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 2:26 PM
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Floodwaters flooded this rural home (left) at the intersection of Minnesota Highway 3 and Rice County Road 29 north of Faribault. This photo was taken late last Saturday morning from CR 29 by the Straight River bridge.

IF YOU’RE WILLING AND ABLE, you can assist residents of Faribault and the surrounding area with clean-up following last week’s devastating floods.

That’s according to a Code Red recorded telephone message I just received from Rice County Sheriff Richard Cook. After I got over the initial scare of hearing the words “Rice County Sheriff’s Department,” I listened, and then listened again to the request.

Here’s the deal: If you can volunteer with flood clean-up, report to the volunteer coordination center at the Rice County Fairgrounds 4-H building in Faribault. Or, you may register to volunteer by calling (507) 332-6234.

Those in need of clean-up assistance may also call (507) 332-6234.

Click here for flood information updates from Rice County.

If you can assist, please do. Organize your friends, your co-workers, fellow church members, neighbors, whomever, and help with the clean-up.

Rice County Road 29 northeast of Faribault was closed last week due to flooding in the area along the Straight River. The road and adjoining Highway 3 were reopened by Sunday.

The rushing Straight River touched the underside of the Rice County 29 bridge.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling