Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Preparing for the floods, which haven’t arrived, yet, anyway March 25, 2011

Xcel Energy sandbagged its electrical substation near the Straight River in preparation for spring flooding. See the green, fenced enclosures next to the building. Last fall this substation flooded during a flash flood.

UNLESS THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE changes its forecast, a flood warning that covers Rice County expires at 3:30 p.m. Friday.

That’s good news for Faribault, where residents and officials have been nervously watching the rising, and now receding, Cannon and Straight Rivers that run through town.

Six months ago, those rivers rushed over their banks during a September flash flood, threatening homes and businesses and actually flooding some. Sewage also backed up in to homes and the city’s wastewater treatment plant was compromised. Because of the sudden nature of that flood, my community was not fully prepared.

This spring, though, following a winter of heavy snowfall and then a quick snow melt, officials had emergency plans in place to deal with possible flooding. They had even recruited students to fill sandbags, stockpiled at a local park for residential use.

They were ready. Ready is good.

Better to be safe than sorry.

Here’s a look at some river and preparedness scenes I shot near the Cannon and Straight Rivers Wednesday evening.

If we don’t get another major storm—rain or snow— and the weather stays cold, slowing the snow melt, I think we should be OK here in Faribault, meaning no need to worry about flooding.

But then that can change on a dime, and I’ve heard predictions of another possible river crest next week.

And so we wait…prepared.

Student volunteers and others filled sandbags, available to residents who needed them. These were stockpiled at South Alexander Park by the Cannon River when I shot this image Wednesday evening.

River waters rise close to Faribault Foods. Last fall floodwaters reached as far as the overhead doors.

The Straight River encroaches on Faribault's Water Reclamation Plant, which now appears "safe" from floodwaters.

A sandbagged utility area along the Straight River by the viaduct and Teepee Tonka Park on Faribault's east side.

CLICK HERE to view images from last September’s flash flood in Faribault, comparing the situation then to today. River levels are much lower than six months ago.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Flood updates from southern Minnesota March 23, 2011

AS YOU WOULD EXPECT, Minnesotans are keeping a close watch on rising rivers, creeks and streams as rain and snow continue to fall across much of our state.

Here in Faribault, sandbagging has begun at the wastewater treatment plant, which flooded during last September’s flash flood. Sandbags have been filled and are available to property owners. The city has an emergency plan in place to deal with any flooding.

Faribault officials are working to protect the city's water reclamation plant which sits along the Straight River and which was flooded in a September 2010 flood. This photo is from September 2010.

Thankfully, the precipitation—rain, sleet and then snow overnight—have stopped in Faribault.

Further to the south, I’ve heard from Katie Shones of Hammond, a Wabasha County village nestled along the Zumbro River. Last September Hammond and nearby Zumbro Falls were devastated by the same flash flood that occurred in Faribault.

Katie updated me just this afternoon on the situation in Hammond. “So far, no sandbagging in the area,” Katie writes. “We are under a flood warning in Wabasha County, just as much of southern Minnesota. The Zumbro is high, but it is still contained in its banks. People are watching the river closely as you can well imagine.”

Looking down on Hammond during the September 2010 flash flood. Photo courtesy of Hammond residents Micheal Mann and Tina Marlowe.

Sadly, yesterday the spring floods claimed the life of a Minnesota Department of Transportation worker who was swept away by floodwaters after his backhoe tipped into Seven Mile Creek, which feeds into the Minnesota River. The accident happened between Mankato and St. Peter along U.S. Highway 169 when Michael Struck 39, of Cleveland, was attempting to clean out flood debris, according to an article in The Free Press, Mankato. His body was found today in Seven Mile Creek County Park.

Please be careful out there, and if you have any reports you would like to share about flood preparedness, flooding or other weather in your area of Minnesota, please submit a comment.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Remembering the children as Minnesota prepares for spring floods February 23, 2011

SOMETIMES WE FORGET, in the jumble of quotes and information, to see a certain human, deeply personal, side of a news story.

Today, thanks to Katie Shones of Hammond, I’m bringing you a child’s perspective on the devastating flood that engulfed her southeastern Minnesota community of 230 during a September 2010 flash flood. I met Katie shortly after the flood.

The disaster was a terrifying ordeal for Hammond residents, who are still reeling in the aftermath. Many have not yet returned to their homes. Some won’t.

Now, as the focus in Minnesota shifts to predicted record spring flooding, as officials prepare for the highest river levels since the 1960s, as crews begin filling sandbags in areas along the Red River, this seems the right moment to let Katie speak—about her children.

But first a little background. Katie and her husband, Scott, live on the east side of Hammond, which is divided by the Zumbro River. The river flows just across Main Street, the highway and the park from the Shones’ home. Floodwaters came within feet—feet—of their house, lapping at their front door.

The home of Katie and Scott Shones and their children, photographed by Hammond resident Gene Reckmann during the September 2010 flood. Their house was spared, by mere feet.

Katie isn’t too worried about flooding this spring. Yet, she’s concerned enough to have a plan. If the Zumbro River rises like it did last fall, she and Scott will haul sand and gravel from a local quarry and build a bank to protect their home. They also have a relocation plan in place.

Their 11-year-old daughter, Rebekah, is ready too. “Ever the resourceful and prepared child she is, she has two bags jam-packed with stuff underneath her bed just in case we have to leave on a moment’s notice due to floodwaters,” Katie says.

This mother’s words break my heart. No child should have to worry about a flood.

But the depth to which the Hammond flood has impacted Rebekah and her 9-year-old brother Jerome reaches beyond concerns about a future flood. “The September flood has affected them more deeply than I had ever imagined,” Katie tells me. “Bekah still occasionally cries out in her sleep, ‘Daddy, Daddy, help me.’ When I ask her what is wrong, she mumbles things about the flood. She never fully wakes up, but I do believe she is having nightmares about that day.”

As a mother, simply reading this brings me to tears. I can only imagine how Katie and Scott feel when they hear their daughter cry out for help in her sleep.

“Jerome has seen the flooding in Australia on the news and is very worried that it will spread to Hammond,” Katie continues. “I have tried to reassure my kids that if it ever gets as bad as it did last fall, we will leave long before it reaches our place and go to Grandma Merle’s (my mother’s farm). The farm is located just two miles from our home, but is on the limestone bluffs above the Zumbro River.”

With so many Hammond residents forced from town and many still not back in their homes, Katie says her children are also without many playmates. “…there never were many children in the area their ages to play with, but now there are only four kids in Hammond left for them to play with.”

That said, the absence of their playmates serves as a daily reminder to Rebekah and Jerome of the floodwaters which ravaged their town and came terrifyingly close to flooding their home.

As Minnesotans physically prepare for the floodwaters that are certain to inundate communities and homes, I hope river town residents are also preparing psychologically, specifically remembering the children like Rebekah and Jerome.

Floodwaters destroyed this portion of Wabasha County Road 11, the river road which runs from Hammond to Jarrett. Gene Reckmann photographed this section of the roadway just outside of Hammond.

THANK YOU, Katie, for allowing me to share your deeply personal story. Thank you also to Gene Reckmann of Hammond for the photos posted here.

READERS, IF YOU have not read my series of posts and photos about the September flood in Hammond and neighboring Zumbro Falls, check my Minnesota Prairie Roots archives for stories published during the week of October 11, 2010.

Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling