Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

When torrential rains cause major flooding in my home region of southwestern Minnesota July 4, 2018

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY, my friends. I hope this finds you celebrating your freedom in a fun way.

 

The Redwood River, flooded over its banks, along Redwood County Road 10 heading south out of Vesta earlier this spring. That’s my home farm in the distance. I expect the flooding is much worse now. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

In my home region of southwestern Minnesota, where I was supposed to be yesterday and today with extended family, residents are cleaning up after heavy rainfall flooded the region. Flash flooding resulted in water in basements (and higher), road wash-outs and closures, mudslides, swamped farm fields, overflowing rivers and more. That includes in my home county of Redwood. And the communities of Wabasso (where I graduated from high school) and Vesta (my hometown).

After a flurry of texts between me and my five siblings and lots of online searching yesterday, Randy and I decided not to risk the trip into the flooded region. Although I second-guessed our decision multiple times, it was the right one. This morning floodwaters flowed across a section of US highway 14 east of Lamberton, our route to and from my middle brother’s rural acreage just north of that small town. Likewise I expect the rising Cottonwood River has flooded a county road within a mile of our destination.

Some roads have collapsed in Redwood and Renville counties. I don’t trust the structural integrity of any road covered with water. The Redwood County Sheriff’s Department issued this statement on Facebook early yesterday morning:

We have had numerous (reports) of water covering the roadways. Please DO NOT drive on any roadway that has water running over it. MN DOT and Redwood County highway departments are doing the best they can do get these roads blocked off to warn motorists.

 

A combine similar to this was moved from a Tracy dealership onto Highway 14. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

One of the most creative road blocks happened in Tracy where crews parked a massive John Deere combine across Highway 14 to keep traffic off the flooded roadway.

 

This road-side sculpture welcomes travelers to Wabasso. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

In Wabasso, which got 11 inches of rain within 12 hours, a resident noted on social media that the white rabbit was safe from floodwaters. He was referencing an over-sized rabbit sculpture along State Highway 68. Wabasso means “white rabbit” and is the local school mascot.

It’s good to find humor in a difficult situation, in an area where residents endured another round of rain this Fourth of July morning.

To those who live in my native southwestern Minnesota (and that includes many family and friends), I am sorry you are experiencing this major flooding. Please be safe.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Spring flooding in my home county of Redwood April 30, 2018

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Entering my home county of Redwood along Minnesota State Highway 68 southeast of Morgan.

 

SEVERAL DAYS AGO, traveling back to my hometown of Vesta, I noted snow sculpted in some road ditches. This late in April, the scene was unexpected. But then a blizzard raged across southern Minnesota only weeks earlier. And that road ditch snow, hard-packed by prairie winds, had yet to melt in the then 60-degree temps.

 

Nearing Vesta (left in photo) along Minnesota State Highway 19, I saw more and more flooding of farm fields.

 

A view of the flooding from Highway 19 just northwest of Vesta.

 

And just across the highway, more flooding.

 

Beyond the snow, though, I noticed water setting in farm fields. The late significant snowfalls and plugged culverts and tiles likely contributed to the collection of snow melt water in many low-lying areas. It would be awhile, I surmised, before farmers would be working this land.

 

 

The deep blue of those temporary ponds appeals to the poet in me. I see lines of poetry in splashes of blue across an otherwise drab landscape stubbled by remnants of last year’s harvest.

 

The Redwood River, flooded over its banks, along Redwood County Road 10 heading south out of Vesta. That’s my home farm in the distance. There have been times when the river flooded across the roadway.

 

A temporary lake of floodwaters borders my hometown of Vesta.

 

Flooded farmland along the Redwood River on the edge of Vesta.

 

On the south edge of Vesta, within view of the Redwood River, a lake formed as the river overflowed its banks and flooded surrounding farm land. The town itself was in no danger with a hill—rare as they are on the prairie—bordering that end of town.

 

Water spreads easily across the almost tabletop flat landscape, here just north of Vesta.

 

There’s something about floodwaters that draws my appreciation, causes me to stand and just look at the river and recognize its power.

 

These grain bins sit a gravel road and short stretch of land away from the floodwaters of the Redwood River in Vesta.

 

I realize that soon (maybe even as I write) this flooding will be another memory as farmers ready for planting and, in several months, the harvest.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A native Minnesotan reports from flooded Minot June 23, 2011

MY BROTHER-IN-LAW, Neil, lives in Minot.

But he ranks as one of the lucky residents of this North Dakota city. His house lies outside—albeit less than a mile away—and several hundred feet above the flood zone.

Yet, this Air Force man and Minnesota native isn’t sitting idly by because his home has not been threatened. He’s pitching in to help those who face the reality of losing their houses in the worst flooding since 1969.

In an e-mail I received from Neil early this morning, he shares information, insights and, yes, even advice about the current situation—which he terms “exhausting and discouraging”—in his adopted hometown. The overwhelmed Souris River in Minot is expected to crest on Sunday, some five feet higher than any previous flood stage in recorded history for the area, Neil says. The old record was set in 1881, before Minot was founded.

So that’s the situation facing this city, where some 12,000 residents, more than a quarter of the population, have been evacuated and where, says Neil, dikes in several neighborhoods were breached on Wednesday.

Neil has assisted two families in exiting the city.

He writes: “I helped a lady from our church on Monday night as she moved everything either to the second floor or attic. What didn’t go upstairs went into a horse trailer that her brother brought in from out of town late that night. She seemed to take things in stride. Her house was also flooded in ’69 (before it was her house), but came through it okay. It’s extremely well built, nearly 100 years old. This lady trusts that God will provide for her needs, even if her house washes down the river.”

Neil next joined efforts to help his boss’s family. His boss is deployed to Afghanistan.

“I lost track of how many people were there to help them,” Neil writes. “We also helped them three weeks ago, when we moved everything out of their sopping wet basement to the upper floor and garage. Because of the shortage of time allowed to evacuate, we left almost everything there that time. Because of the expected height of the floodwaters and the advance preparation time, we decided to clear everything out of their house this time.”

Yet, Neil continues, “There were easily several pickup loads of stuff that we left behind simply because there wasn’t enough time/energy/resources to move it all.”

At this point my brother-in-law pauses and suggests that we all re-evaluate our possessions, deciding what we really need and what we don’t. “Go through your house and garage and get rid of anything that you haven’t laid eyes on or used in the past three years.” He intends to do exactly that at his Minot home, which is currently on the market; he’s been reassigned to an Air Force base in Missouri.

When Neil and his wife, who is already in Missouri, purchased their house several years ago, they purposely stayed away from the flood zone. “A contractor that we spoke to before buying a house told us the down sides of several locations in this town. One specific neighborhood that he told us to steer clear of is the exact one that we helped my boss’s family move out of; he told us that he wouldn’t even consider building a house down there because the whole area was under water in the flood of ’69,” Neil says.

And then my brother-in-law adds this final statement: “Dikes give people a false sense of security.  No one presently living in this town will ever doubt that again!”

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling