Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

An update from flood-ravaged Hammond & Floodfest 2010 November 12, 2010

WHEN I MET KATIE SHONES a month ago outside her Hammond home across Wabasha County Road 11 from the Zumbro River, she was angry. She was waiting for President Barack Obama to issue a disaster declaration that would begin the process of rebuilding her flood-ravaged community of 230.

Some 80 percent of the homes in her town, and most if not all of the businesses, were damaged by late September floodwaters. She was one of the lucky ones; the water stopped several feet from her front door.

A flood-damaged home and garage in Hammond, photographed in mid-October..

Yet, the impact on her community, on family and friends, left Katie reeling.

We’ve exchanged several e-mails since our mid-October meeting. With Katie’s permission, I am sharing here, in her words, how she and others have been impacted, why she is frustrated and how you can help.

Interestingly enough, Katie begins her first e-mail with a definitive choice of words that truly causes me to pause. She terms the people of southeastern Minnesota “flood survivors,” adding this in parenthesis: (notice I did not say flood victim!).

Right away I ask her to explain why that differentiation is so important.

I prefer the term survivor. The flood is over, it is time to get on with life, move forward and face all the challenges head on. Victim sounds like you are allowing someone or something to take advantage of you. It sounds downtrodden, depressed. I see people of all ages doing what midwesterners do best “pulling themselves up by the bootstraps.”

So who are these people, these strong, strong people whom Katie knows?

My brother’s house is in Zumbro Falls – main street – and had water almost up to the first floor ceiling. They can rebuild if they want providing the first floor is 1.7 ft above the 100 year flood plain. At this point, my brother and his wife will spend the winter at my mom’s and decide what to do in the Spring, as to whether they will raise the existing house up 1.7 ft, rebuild or move to a different home. They did have flood insurance.

My mother-in-law’s home is approximately 2 miles down river from Jarrett. She has lived in that house for 53 years and in that time her house had never once flooded except for this Sept. The flood waters came out of the first floor windows. She did not have flood insurance because she is not in the flood plain. The house is stripped down to the stud walls and she plans on fixing up the house and moving back in sometime this coming year. She has signed up for the free insulation and sheet rock. A son and a son-in-law will do the re-wiring.

For now, Katie’s 75-year-old widowed mother-in-law is bouncing among her five daughters’ homes.

My dear friend and her family have been living in a hotel room since the flood occurred. They still have to make the mortgage payment on their uninhabitable home plus come up with the money for the hotel…….

She details in a follow-up email that her friend’s family has now found a house to rent in Rochester for the winter and will fix up their Hammond home and move back as soon as they can. Three generations lived in that house, which lies in the 500-year flood plain and saw floodwaters rise more than two feet into the first floor.

I can only think that for the trio of flood survivor stories Katie has shared with me, there are hundreds more. She continues:

To be honest with you, I have not talked with many of my former neighbors. I do not know where some of them have moved to. A few Hammondites cannot rebuild because they are in the flood way. Some are walking away because they never want to go through anything like this ever again. I get the feeling the majority of residents will rebuild. Hammond is their home. Some will remodel and others are talking about putting in trailer houses or modular homes.

The exposed side of a restaurant/grocery in Hammond, where a portion of a building once stood. A month ago the ruins lay in a heap in the street.

Katie praises those who have come to the aid of flood survivors.

Many volunteer organizations have come in to the area and have done an amazing job.  People and groups have helped tear down damaged walls and floors, picked up junk and debris, local restaurants and businesses have brought in meals. One church organization is donating insulation and sheet rock to flood damaged homes and the labor to put the materials up!!! Others have come in and power washed basements and walls to prevent black mold.

Volunteers are still needed. Call the Hammond City Hall at (507) 753-2086 and leave a message stating that you are willing to help and what special skills you can offer.

With the exception of winter wear, clothing donations are not needed. Furniture is welcomed, Katie says, adding though that many survivors have no place to store anything.

Monetary donations for flood relief may be directed to:

MinnWest Bank – Rochester, 331 16th Ave NW, Rochester, MN. 55901

People’s State Bank, 100 4th Ave SE, Plainview, MN. 55964

While Katie appreciates the kindness and help of so many, she remains frustrated with the government.

What is so maddening is the government’s response to the homeowners. I have been told that the reason there is so little assistance to the individual is because so few homes (only 604 homes) were affected. That shouldn’t make any difference. A home is a home and these people still need a place to live. Many have moved in with family members. I think the biggest thing people can do is call their elected officials and express outrage at how this entire tragedy has been handled. I truly believe that the average Minnesotan does not realize the extent of devastation in Wabasha County, the hardest hit county during the flood.

THIS WEEKEND YOU CAN JOIN flood relief efforts by attending Floodfest 2010 at Bluff Valley Campground, 61297 390th Ave., Zumbro Falls. Proceeds will benefit those impacted by the southeastern Minnesota flood. The event begins today at 5 p.m with a fish fry and continues until 1 a.m. Floodfest then resumes at 7 a.m. Saturday with a prayer service followed by a pancake breakfast. The weekend is jam-packed with music, a kids’ carnival, sporting activities, a bake sale, silent auction, arts and crafts and more. Click here for more information.

A Zumbro Falls home destroyed by the September flood.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling