Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

She just wants to hug her house March 16, 2011


Through the trees and looking down into flooded Hammond, you can see the top of Dallas and Vicki Williamson's house "in" the Zumbro River. Carrie Hofschulte took this photo.

I’M TAKING A BREAK today from sharing flood survivor Tina Marlowe’s experiences to tell you about another family affected by the September 2010 flash flood in southeastern Minnesota during this, National Flood Safety Awareness Week.

Sheri Ryan of Goodhue contacted me shortly after I posted the first in my six-part flood series. She had flood photos and wanted to know if I was interested in posting them here. Once I saw Sheri’s images and read her email, I knew, without a doubt, that these photos and this story needed to be shared.

Sheri is the daughter of Vicki and Dallas Williamson, whose 1881 home in Hammond was heavily-damaged by the floodwaters. The couple is not returning to this Zumbro River community and has relocated 35 miles away to an 1882 farmhouse atop a hill in rural Cannon Falls.

Sheri’s photos are powerful. Upon viewing these images, I was instantly reminded of the pictures my second daughter took while volunteering with clean-up after Hurricane Katrina.

Although the number of individuals affected by the flash floods in Minnesota last fall pales in comparison to Hurricane Katrina, the impact is no less significant. Lives have been thrown into upheaval and chaos in the aftermath of such a devastating natural disaster.

Sheri says her mom is still mourning the loss of her home in Hammond.

“My mom is completely devastated from losing their home and all that was ‘tossed out on the street’ for the loaders to take away, and all that was washed down the river–her beautiful garden, grandsons’ toys, her parents’ stuff/photos, memories…she said the other day that she ‘just wants to give her house a hug’.”

For now, the future of that house is uncertain. The Williamsons won’t be back. But they must decide whether to elevate the house four feet (to be above the 100-year flood plain), tear it down or move it. If they go with a buy-out plan, the house must be torn down and nothing can be built there again.

They had flood insurance, but that did not cover the costs of purchasing the 1882 Cannon Falls area farmhouse.

“…there have not been many decisions yet,” Sheri says. “She (mom) just cannot go through this again. She said it is like a death…a loss…maybe she is still in mourning?”

We would all be wise to remember, as spring flood season approaches, our Minnesota neighbors like Vicki who are still struggling to recover from the floods of nearly six months ago.

Another shot of the Williamsons’ flooded home. Photo by Susie Buck

Above the window you can clearly see the water line marking the height of the floodwaters on the Williamson house. They had just power-washed the house two days before the flood. Sheri Ryan photo.

A day after the floodwaters subsided, you can barely tell that 9 feet and 8 inches of water once surrounded the Williamsons' house. The freezer near the back door had been inside the garage and was moved by floodwaters. Fifty freshly-butchered chickens were scattered across the yard and garage. Vicki Williamson lost all of her freshly-frozen tomato sauce also. The family had to dispose of the rotting food quickly into containers to keep coyotes and other critters from scavenging. Photo by Sheri Ryan

The first day back into their flooded home, the Williamson family had 20 minutes to grab whatever they could carry on the back of a four-wheeler. Photo by Sheri Ryan.

In the Williamsons' bathroom, a layer of muck covered everything. Floodwaters peeled the wallpaper off the walls. Photo by Sheri Ryan.

Flood-damaged debris collected in the Williamsons' front yard. Says Sheri Ryan, "My mom called me on Wednesday just in tears, bawling because they were taking away all of her stuff with pay-loaders." Photo by Sheri Ryan.


The Williamsons' gutted home, including beautiful hardwood floors. Photo by Sheri Ryan.

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

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

THANK YOU to Sheri Ryan and Carrie Hofschulte for sharing these incredible photos.

Check back tomorrow for Part IV in my flood series from Hammond.

Text copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photos copyright 2011 Sheri Ryan and Carrie Hofschulte


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


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


Gratitude from a Minnesota flood survivor January 14, 2011

YESTERDAY I APPROVED a comment submitted by Tina Marlowe on my November 12, 2010, post, “An update from flood-ravaged Hammond & Floodfest 2010.”

Maybe you read the comment from this woman who survived the September flooding of tiny Hammond in southeastern Minnesota. Tina and her family fled their flooded home and lived in a hotel, then a rental house in Rochester, before returning to Hammond shortly after Christmas.

In case you missed Tina’s heartfelt comment, I am republishing it here because you need to read the words of this flood survivor. She writes with touching honesty, depth and emotion.

A child's toy lies among the tires and other rubble at a collection point in Hammond when I visited the small Wabasha County town along the Zumbro River some 2 1/2 weeks after the September flood. Seeing that child's discarded toy among all the flood debris depicted, for me, the personal side of this natural disaster.

You’ll hear more from Tina in the future. She sent me a four-page e-mail in response to additional questions I asked. Her answers will move you to tears. Once I’ve sorted through her missive—and that could take a week or three—I’ll publish Tina’s complete story in a series of installments.

But for now, read this portion of Tina’s story:

I AM THE DEAR FRIEND that Katie spoke of. My name is Tina. I am happy to report that my family: my father and mother-in-laws to be; my fiancé, Micheal; and my children, Cassandra and Christian, moved back into our home in Hammond the weekend of New Year’s Eve. We tried desperately to get back in by Christmas, but a couple of our snow storms and other glitches set us back a few days. But we are home, finally.

It has been a long, hard road to get here, and it is simply amazing how far we have come in such a relatively short amount of time. We are lucky, so very, very lucky. We are the third or so family home so far. But it is comforting to look out the window and see the contractors in our neighbors’ houses!

I know now what they don’t quite realize yet. Their homes are going to be beautiful once again, and most likely better than they were before! I cannot even describe the emotions of coming home to a beautifully rebuilt home, after all we have been through.

It would have never been possible, though, without the hard work, generosity, and compassion of all of our neighbors. Not just our neighbors in Hammond, Zumbro Falls, Mazeppa, Millville, Elgin, Plainview and Rochester, but also our neighbors in Rushford and Winona area who know all too well the nightmare we are going through, our neighbors from Minneapolis, Wisconsin, Iowa, and reaches farther than anyone will ever know.

From our school districts, to church groups, to motorcycle clubs, teen-agers, retirees, sentence-to-serve program…. the diversity of mid-westerners that rallied around us and embraced us and fed us and clothed us and held us and cried with us, and wiped our tears and told us we would be ok…

It has all been a truly amazing demonstration of humanity…. indescribable. I am very proud to live in such a wonderful place, and eternally grateful to each and every person who has already, and those who are still to come, for all of your help. There is still a lot, I mean a lot, of work left to be done, and I know that with such wonderful people surrounding us that it will be done.

Thank you and God Bless You All – The Mann Family

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Ongoing stories of flood recovery in Hammond, Jarrett and Zumbro Falls January 5, 2011

THREE MONTHS AGO I met four strong women from Wabasha County.

They had survived devastating late September floods that ravaged their communities and left two of them homeless.

Since then, I’ve kept in contact with one of those survivors, Katie Shones of tiny Hammond. The floodwaters of the Zumbro River stopped within feet of her front door. Now, that might be enough for Katie to breathe a sigh of relief and continue on with her life. But not Katie. She cares about her hamlet of Hammond and the residents she considers family.


A flood-damaged home and garage in Hammond, along the same street where Katie Shones and her family live. I took this photo only 2 1/2 weeks after the late September flood devastated the area.

I CARE, TOO, and I’ve promised Katie that I will continue telling the story of this region. In the always changing world of natural disasters, we quickly forget about a flood or an earthquake or a tornado as they all blend seamlessly together. That may sound harsh, but I know it is honest reality.

Katie e-mailed a few days ago, after I selected eight posts on the September flooding as my personal favorite Minnesota Prairie Roots stories for 2010.

In her message, Katie updated me on the recovery situation in Hammond and neighboring Zumbro Falls and Jarrett.

First, she tells me that her brother and his wife, whose main street Zumbro Falls home had water almost up to the first floor ceiling, have purchased a home “way high up on the hill” two miles south of Zumbro Falls. Did you catch that “way high up on the hill” part?

Her dear friend and family, who were living in a hotel and making mortgage payments on an uninhabitable residence, returned to their Hammond home the day after Christmas. “They are so grateful to be back,” Katie writes.

Another resident has moved into a new trailer house on her lot in Hammond. Some 80 percent of the homes and most of the businesses in the community of 230 were flooded.

Katie’s mother-in-law is still shuttling between family members’ homes and hasn’t decided what she will do. Her home of 53 years, two miles down river from Jarrett, had floodwaters flowing out of first floor windows.

Susie Shones, whom I interviewed and who is married to Katie’s husband’s cousin, is now temporarily renting a trailer home above Jarrett. Six feet of floodwaters forced Susie and her husband out of their first Jarrett rental house. Ironically, says Katie, the limestone bluffs surrounding Hammond and Jarrett are among the highest elevation points in Wabasha County.

Businesses along the street where Katie lives are beginning to recover. The bank has reopened. The bar is expected to reopen in March. And the restaurant owner is hard at work remodeling his building.


Minnwest Bank in Hammond, by Katie's home, has reopened.

The partially-gutted restaurant interior, photographed on October 10, 2010, is now being renovated.

“OTHER THAN THAT, not much happening in Hammond and the surrounding area due to the weather,” Katie writes. “Hammond continues to look like a ghost town. Every other street light is shut off and the majority of the homes are dark. I keep expecting to see coyotes roaming the streets……”

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling