Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Part V: Help after the Hammond flood March 18, 2011

EDITOR’S NOTE: Minnesotans help one another. So when Tina Marlowe and her family needed assistance after a devastating autumn 2010 flash flood severely damaged their Hammond, Minnesota, home, volunteers were there to assist.

Today, in this fifth in a series of stories, read about the people who helped Tina’s family and the gratitude she feels toward them.


John Bemmert took this photo from the front deck of his house. It shows his flooded yard within the fence, his neighbor's house to the left and his father-in-law's yard on the right. This image was taken on the afternoon of Friday, September 24, 2010.

Floodwaters approach the home of John Bemmert in this photo he took the afternoon of Friday, September 24, 2010. He was one of the lucky ones. The water rose only to the base of the skirting on his home.

WITH A FLOODED basement and several inches of water on the main level, Tina, her fiancé, two children and future in-laws were forced from their home. When the floodwaters receded, volunteers pitched in to help the family move their belongings and gut their home.

The Sons of Silence Motorcycle Club immediately dispatched a crew to move furniture, clean the basement, and rip out flooring and drywall. A retired couple from the Rushford area, Sentence-to-Serve members and others helped the family. The Rochester Med City Crew MC treated the family to a Thanksgiving dinner.

“I am grateful they took care of us with such dignity and respect,” Tina says of all who assisted them.

Once their house was emptied and dried out, they immediately began the process of rebuilding.


Without flood insurance on their home which lies in the 500-year flood plain, Tina and her family depended on others and sought out programs that could assist them. They accepted a Quickstart Grant, shopped around, made good choices and spent money as wisely as they could to stretch it as far as they could, Tina says.

They also tapped into Cathy Mann’s retirement fund to buy appliances.

Yet, there is nothing to pay for replacing their personal belongings.

In the spirit of giving, people have pitched in—a grant from Tina’s company to help pay hotel bills; co-workers donating money and holding a bake sale and chili feed to cover hotel and food costs; the Plainview-Elgin-Millville School District, through a drive, provided clothes, bedding, other essentials and cash; and a cash donation from Cathy Mann’s (Tina’s future mother-in-law) co-workers helped pay hotel bills.

Through Lion’s Club, Eagles Club, church group and individual donations to the Zumbro Valley Disaster Relief Fund, the family received intermittent assistance with gas and grocery cards.

“The amount of help we received from the community is unbelievable and is something every Minnesotan can, and should, be proud of,” Tina says.


The floodwaters had receded when John Bemmert took this photo on the morning of Saturday, September 25, 2010. It shows the intersection of Wabasha County Road 11 and Second Avenue. The flood tore out the wooden fence. A waterline is visible on the house.

Susie Buck took this photo as floodwater from storm sewers began backing up from the street into her yard before 8 a.m. on Friday, September 24, 2010. Motorists had to drive through her yard to get out of town on the west side of the Zumbro River in Hammond.

PLEASE JOIN MINNESOTA PRAIRIE ROOTS for one last visit with Tina Marlowe as she tells us what remains to be done in Hammond and how you can help.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photos Copyright 2011 by Susie Buck & John Bemmert


Part IV: Hanging onto hope after the flood March 17, 2011

EDITOR’S NOTE: What is it like to lose nearly everything you own in a flood? What is it like to have your life disrupted, to be without a home? This post addresses those questions in this fourth in a series of stories about a Hammond, Minnesota, family that survived a September 2010 flash flood.

An aerial view of Hammond during the flash flood of September 2010. Photo courtesy of Micheal Mann & Tina Marlowe.

FOR TINA MARLOWE and her family, life abruptly changed after the flooding Zumbro River forced them from their home. Those first few days for Tina, her fiancé, two children and in-laws—all of whom lived together in the same house—were charged with emotion, filled with uncertainty.

“Every member of our family has gone through every emotion you can think of,” Tina says. “Desperation and shock the first few days, looking at the destruction to our home, to our friends’ homes, to our favorite ‘watering hole,’ which is also the community gathering place, to our parks, our river bank, the rubbish and filth.

Wonder and fear as to what will happen to us… Where will we go? Who is going to help us? Where am I going to start? What have I lost? What do I have left? How am I going to pay for it all? Will I be able to financially survive in the meantime? What do I tell the kids?”


Floodwaters from the Zumbro River reached Hammond's business district. Photo courtesy of Micheal Mann & Tina Marlowe.

The bridge connecting east and west Hammond is barely visible during the flood, which also overtook the town's park. Photo courtesy of Micheal Mann & Tina Marlowe.


For Tina’s children, 16-year-old Cassie and 7-year-old Christian, the flood took a major emotional toll. Christian started having behavioral and concentration problems on the bus and in school. Cassie’s life as a busy teen, running around, making plans, came to a screeching halt.

“They went through the extremes of being angry, then indifferent,” Tina says of her children.

Now that the family has returned to Hammond—they moved back right after Christmas, three months after the flood—the kids are beginning to settle back into normal routines and a normal life.

“They have seen and learned a lot,” Tina says. “I hope that the greatest lesson that they get from this is that family, community, and love are the most powerful tools and assets they will ever have. This is the ONLY thing that will get you through when all else is lost, and is all and everything that you need in life to be secure.

We are Minnesotans. We take care of each other.”

Floodwaters destroyed everything in the basement of the house where Tina, Micheal, Cassie and Christian and Bob and Cathy Mann live. Photo courtesy of Micheal Mann & Tina Marlowe.

Muck surrounds the furnace in the Mann family's basement. Photo courtesy of Micheal Mann & Tina Marlowe.

Flooded appliances in the basement. Photo courtesy of Micheal Mann & Tina Marlowe.

The family's belongings, moved outside to dry after the flood. Photo courtesy of Micheal Mann & Tina Marlowe.


A devastating natural disaster like this flood raises many questions and elicits mixed emotions, including anger. Tina has felt her share of anger and I’m allowing her to air her concerns here so that perhaps we can all learn from her experience.

Tina says Hammond, population 230, was neglected and forgotten during the “threat” of the rising river. No one came to help on Thursday night until it was too late, she claims. The evacuation in Hammond occurred many hours after the exodus in nearby Zumbro Falls.

While food and shelter were offered in Hammond, Tina says that did not help her family displaced to a hotel in neighboring Rochester.

“There was no immediate help in the aftermath, and a lot of what was being done didn’t make sense to us. We were left to fend for ourselves for nearly two months,” Tina continues.

Her anger focuses on the government “for not having a better plan, and for ultimately abandoning us.” She was angry, too, at President Barack Obama…”when he was doing diplomatic work, when we felt that a simple acknowledgement and signed declaration seemed so simple.”

She felt a loss of hope “when big brother seems to turn his back on you.”

Yet, Tina says she is grateful and humble for the volunteer help, the donations, the support from neighboring communities.


Anticipation and anxiety marked the family’s days as they awaited word on financing and rebuilding. They were physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted.

When they finally returned home to Hammond, they felt peace, hope and appreciation.

“But it’s not over yet,” Tina says. “There are still feelings of guilt. So many (people) had damages much worse than us. There are those still waiting for answers.

It’s hard to be one of the first ones home. It’s lonely. Our neighbors’ homes are dark and empty. Every day we hear news of another one leaving or another one deciding to stay. The future is still uncertain.

Our quiet, simple life in the valley has been disrupted. This summer we still won’t be able to enjoy all that we enjoy about our valley because of the loss and destruction.

I hang onto hope and realize the meaning of resilience when I watch the bald eagle fly over the river, still making the valley his home too. I feel a lot like that eagle, fighting extinction—refusing to leave the home I love.”

THE NEXT INSTALLMENT in this series looks at how others have helped Tina and her family get back on their feet.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photos courtesy and copyright of Micheal Mann & Tina Marlowe


Part III: A flood survivor’s answered prayers March 15, 2011

EDITOR’S NOTE: As Minnesotans prepare for spring floods, I bring you this third in a series of stories from Hammond. Last fall a flash flood raged through this small southeastern Minnesota community. Tina Marlowe, 36, and her family were among the many families left temporarily homeless. Floodwaters engulfed the basement of their home and flooded the main level with several inches of water.

In my last post, we left off with the family moving into a Rochester rental home after living in three different hotels.

Today we look at their material losses and Tina’s perspective on losing so much to the floodwaters.


A waterline on the side of this Hammond home shows just how high floodwaters rose on this house located on the south end of Second Avenue South in Hammond. Jenny Hoffman took the photo on the morning of Saturday, September 25, 2010.

WHEN TINA MOVED in with her future in-laws two years ago, most of her possessions—except for clothes and items stored in third level bedrooms—were stashed in the basement.

She lost nearly everything in the flood: Her kids’ “keepsakes.” A collection of Christmas decorations. College and kids’s books. Small appliances. Her music collection. The list goes on and on.

Her in-laws, Bob and Cathy Mann, lost a life-time of collectibles and memories stored in the basement.

“I was not able to save much, and what I did save is damaged—but I don’t care,” Tina says. “I saved my daughter’s baptism dress, cloth, candle and announcement. I was able to save her birth pillow and silver spoons, and her great-grandmother’s genuine crystal antique perfume decanters.

I was able to save my son’s first Harley Davidson outfit that his grandpa got him, and I saved the baby cowboy boots and baby blankets and, despite the damage, I kept my diploma, hat, senior yearbook and my copy of the Byron Review in which I made the front page for graduation in 1993.

I plan to tell them (my children) that just as these items are memories, the damage that they carry are memories too. I guess if one has to decide what you would save if you could only save a few things, these are the things I prayed would be spared. Somehow I feel that my prayer was answered.”


When the floodwaters subsided, Tina, her fiancé, Micheal Mann, and the rest of their family knew they were racing against time to move their soaked belongings out and gut the house.

They carried many of their possessions into their garage. In the spring they will sort through the camping equipment, the river fun equipment, the summer pool, the gardening equipment, the food processor, dehydrator, pressure cooker…to see what they can keep.

“It just breaks my heart because everything that makes me and us Minnesota was lost or damaged in this flood,” Tina says. “It will take me years to replace it all.”

CHECK BACK for Part IV of Tina’s story as she shares how her family was impacted emotionally by the flood and more.


John Bemmert took this photo while standing in his driveway along Second Avenue North on the afternoon of Friday, September 24, 2010. This shows the flooded intersection of Second Avenue and Wabasha County Road 11.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Part II: One hour to pack, a flood survivor’s story March 14, 2011

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today I bring you the second in a series of stories from a survivor of the flood five months ago in Hammond, Minnesota. Tina Marlowe and her family were forced from their home on September 24, 2010.

We pick up where we left off in my last post with the family fleeing their tiny community as floodwaters rose, engulfing their home.


A flooded portion of Bridge Street (Wabasha County Road 6) on the west side of the Zumbro River in Hammond, photographed at 7:30 a.m. on Friday, September 24, 2010. The river was still rapidly rising. Photo by Susie Buck.


Ordered to evacuate, the family drove to a friend’s house in nearby Rochester and then booked a hotel room. After the river crested later that day, they returned to Hammond where the National Guard was blocking every entrance into town.

“We were told that the water had not subsided, our town was not safe, we would not be allowed back in that day, and ‘you really do not want to see what was happening to your town,’” Tina says.

But that didn’t stop Tina’s fiancé, Micheal Mann, who grabbed the family’s 35 mm camera, dogged the guard, and hiked the cemetery hill and down again as close as he could get to photograph their house.

He reported back that the water had risen, broken the bank at the bend behind their house and that the river was “flowing” down their street.


The intersection of Wabasha County Road 11 and Second Avenue in Hammond, photographed by Susie Buck at 7:45 a.m. on Friday, September 24, 2010, from her neighbor's yard. Waters are rising from the storm sewer onto the road and yards. The black Blazer is leaving Hammond on the only route out of town. By the time Susie was told to evacuate around 8:30 a.m., the route was too flooded for cars to drive through. She lost her 2008 Chevrolet Malibu in the flood.


On Saturday, the family was allowed back into their house for one hour to grab essentials and rescue their pets. I’ll allow Tina to tell you about those 60 minutes.

“When we got in we tried to grab our cat, Tigger, but he was totally freaked out. He ran to his usual hiding spot—the basement. Still full of water (with only about four steps visible), the cat hit the water hard and immediately started crying as you heard the pitter patter of his paws desperately trying to swim. Then suddenly I heard nothing. Devastated and in shock, I just watched the cat drown.

But, we only had an hour, so I had no choice but to direct my attention to the issue at hand—all the clothing, dry food, animal food, medicine, and affects that I could carry. Stuffing duffle bag after duffle bag, we were in survivor mode.

Much to our surprise, in the midst of concentrating and sobbing, there was a riotous yelp from the basement and what looked to be a large, wet rat came dashing up from the basement. Crying in relief, we caught Tigger and dried him off. Somehow he had survived his swim.

Unfortunately when we were evacuated Friday, it was chores day. Amongst other things, the fish bowl had not gotten cleaned and he subsequently died on Monday despite my efforts to keep feeding him. Hammond had no clean water and I could not bring him with us.


This photo taken by Jenny Hoffman on the morning of Saturday, September 25, 2010, shows the entrance to the basement in Susie Buck's house. Susie's basement was flooded and water rose 8 - 15 inches into her main floor. The white tote was sitting on the basement floor before the flood, but rose with the floodwaters. Three days later, when the waters receded, the tote settled back onto the basement floor. The books inside were dry. Susie lives across the street from Tina Marlowe and her family.


In the light of the situation, we quickly decided that my 16-year-old would have to quit volleyball. Not knowing what was going to be happening from day to day, or where we would live from day to day I just couldn’t even begin to figure it all out. Her friend’s mother volunteered to let Cassie live with her temporarily so she could finish out the season. Knowing how important it is to try and keep their lives as normal as possible, I agreed.

I also called the bus barn and arranged to have Christian (her 7-year-old son) picked up at the closest bus stop to Rochester and I drove my kids to that stop every day so that they could continue to go to Plainview-Elgin-Millville. On top of the nightmare we were living, I did not want to change their schools.

We lived in three different hotels until November, when we found a landlord who was willing to rent us a house on a month-to-month lease, with pets. That is an impossible task, and thank God Julie came along. It was a huge relief to move into that house in Rochester, where we stayed until we moved back home.

I cannot begin to tell you how stressful it is to live in a one-room hotel with four people, and only two burners and a microwave to cook with.”

MINNESOTA PRAIRIE ROOTS readers, I will continue to bring you Tina’s story in future posts. Please check back.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling