Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Back in Redwood County after July flash floods July 9, 2018

Just six weeks ago, spring planting was underway in this same area of rural Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2018.

 

DURING MY LAST TRIP to southwestern Minnesota in mid May, farmers worked the land. Tilling. Planting crops. Rushing to get seeds into the soil after a late spring start.

Now, some six weeks later, acres and acres of that same cropland lie under water, corn and soybean fields flooded by torrential rains. Flash floods that turned farm land into lakes early last week.

On our route west of Redwood Falls then north to Belview then later east of Belview along county roads back to Redwood, Randy and I observed lots of standing water. Massive lakes where crops should now thrive. It was disheartening to see the efforts and hopes of so many farmers gone. Flash, just like that. Weather is always the gamble of farming. I would never have the mental fortitude to farm. I admire those who do.

As we drove, I noted the wash of debris along shoulders, evidence that floodwaters overtook the county road. We drove a narrow ribbon of asphalt, water edging both sides of the roadway. Orange cones and orange flags flagged danger. An orange snow fence blocked a gravel road.

I understood that, days after the flash flood, we had not seen the worst of this devastating storm. But it was enough for me to gauge the significant loss to the farmers of my native Redwood County.

#

NOTE: My apologies for the lack of flood images. But I am under strict orders from my ortho surgeon not to use my left hand as I recover from surgery on my broken left wrist. “Use it,” he said, “and you will be back in the OR.” I’ll listen, thank you.

© copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Advertisements
 

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

 

Minnesota Faces: Flood survivor January 30, 2015

Portrait #5: Tracy Yennie, after the flood

 

Tracey, Zumbro Falls flood 2010

 

She’s a young woman I will always remember. Tracy Yennie. Strong. Determined. Thankful. A redneck. Her word, not mine.

When I met this mother of four young boys in early October 2010, she was hanging out next to the Salvation Army trailer in downtown Zumbro Falls, a small southeastern Minnesota community ravaged by a September 23/24 flash flood. Tracy’s family lost nearly everything, as did many others, and was camping in a shed on their riverside property.

When I interviewed Tracy, she was waiting on FEMA. She talked strong, invincible. But I could see the weariness in her eyes, edged by dark circles. I saw beneath her tough veneer. I saw a woman concerned about her future.

I wonder sometimes what happened to Tracy and her family. Do they still live in her hometown of Zumbro Falls? Or did the flood force them out?

Of all the portraits I’ve taken, Tracy’s ranks as perhaps my favorite. This photo tells the story of one woman dealing with disaster. And beyond Tracy, if you look at the details, you notice steps leading to the Salvation Army trailer. You notice the flowers behind her, still standing after the flood. You notice a business district seemingly unscathed. But if you were to walk the sidewalks, you would see the damage close-up.

This photo documents disaster in a personal way. It shows disaster as more than a number or an insurance claim. This image puts a face on disaster. And that is powerful.

#

This portrait is part of a new series, Minnesota Faces, featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Memories of the June 13, 1968, Tracy tornado: “Pain, anguish and blood…” June 12, 2013

HE DOESN’T RECALL the details like it was yesterday.

Yesterday, after all, was 45 years ago.

Eric Lantz, 16, of Walnut Grove, shot this award-winning photo of the Tracy tornado as it was leaving town. He often took photos for the Walnut Grove Tribune, owned by his uncle, Everett Lantz. This image by Eric was awarded third place in the 1968 National Newspaper Association contest for best news photo.

Eric Lantz, then 16, of Walnut Grove, shot this award-winning photo of the Tracy tornado as it was leaving town on the evening of June 13, 1968. He often took photos for the Walnut Grove Tribune, owned by his uncle, Everett Lantz. This image by Eric was awarded third place in the 1968 National Newspaper Association contest for best news photo. Copyrighted photo courtesy of Scott Thoma with original copyright retained by Eric Lantz.

But for Mankato resident Steve Ulmen, certain memories of the aftermath of the deadly Tracy tornado of June 13, 1968, stick with him.

He was only 22 then, a college student and a senior member of the Mankato Civil Air Patrol squadron dispatched on a search and rescue mission to Tracy 90 miles away in southwestern Minnesota. They were the first responders, handling crisis management until other local and state officials arrived.

A residential street, once covered in branches and debris, had to be plowed to allow vehicles to pass. Photo by The Tracy Headlight Herald and courtesy of Scott Thoma, Tracy native and author of Out of the Blue, a book about the Tracy tornado.

A residential street, once covered in branches and debris, had to be plowed to allow vehicles to pass. Photo by The Tracy Headlight Herald and courtesy of Scott Thoma, Tracy native and author of Out of the Blue, a book about the Tracy tornado.

Ulmen remembers entering Tracy, feeling overcome by the sheer devastation. The F5 tornado, with wind speeds surpassing 300 mph, killed nine and injured 125. Destruction was massive.

“It looked like we were driving into a dump site, or a burned out slum, or what I would imagine a bombed out city would have looked like after World War II,” Ulmen recalls.

With experience as a hospital orderly, he was assigned to the emergency room at the Tracy hospital—removing victims from ambulances and placing them on gurneys and moving others around.

Some of the injured at the Tracy Hospital. Photo by The Tracy Headlight Herald and courtesy of Scott Thoma.

Some of the injured at the Tracy Hospital. Photo by The Tracy Headlight Herald and courtesy of Scott Thoma.

“There were victims coming in and lying on stretchers even in the hallways, as it was a small hospital,” Ulmen remembers. “Some were suffering from fractures, some from cuts and scratches. All were in one degree of shock or another and needed assistance and someone to talk to them and try and calm them down.

“There was pain, anguish, and blood, that I remember. As long as casualties kept coming in, we stayed on duty.”

The CAP squadron, comprised of cadets (high school age, 18 and under) to supervising senior members, volunteered for several days in the ravaged community. Among other duties, the patrol established a communications system based out of “an old military surplus deuce and a half 4-wheel drive vehicle” equipped with “radios of every description.”

Surveying the destruction at Tracy Elementary School, which was destroyed. Photo by The Tracy Headlight Herald and courtesy of Scott Thoma.

Surveying the destruction at Tracy Elementary School, which was destroyed. Photo by The Tracy Headlight Herald and courtesy of Scott Thoma.

Ulmen remembers the satisfaction he felt in helping those in distress.

Among his memories, Ulmen recalls a particular incident, one he still wonders about now 45 years later. “I was driving either my vehicle or an emergency vehicle, I forget which, and I went through an intersection. The stop sign was bent and twisted from the tornado and wasn’t pointing at the street I was on; it looked like it was pointed at another street. Nevertheless, the local cop saw me run the stop sign, pulled me over, and gave me a ticket,” Ulmen says. “Some thanks for coming all the way from Mankato and volunteering my service to a community in distress. My superiors were not impressed with this either, but I ended up having to pay the ticket as I recall.

“It is funny what you remember from 45 years ago.”

FYI: The community of Tracy is marking the 45-year anniversary of the deadly tornado with special events on Thursday, June 13. Click here to learn more in a post published here several days ago.

To learn more about Steve Ulmen, who served with the CAP for 17 years until he was about 27, click here. Ulmen, who is retired after 34 years of working in the corrections field, is also a published writer. He’s written a western screenplay, later rewritten and published as his first western novel, Toby Ryker. He then published a sequel, Deadwood Days. His most recent works include a book of historical fiction, Blood on the Prairie—A Novel of the Sioux Uprising (actually the first book in the Toby Ryker trilogy), and Bad Moon Arising, a fictional story based on his experiences as the first probation officer in LeSueur County beginning in 1969.

Ulmen and his wife of 42 years, Ida Mae, live in Mankato, his hometown.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Stories from the Tracy, Minnesota, tornado remembered and published 44 years later June 13, 2012

Eric J. Lantz, 16, of Walnut Grove, shot this award-winning photo of the Tracy tornado as it was leaving town. He often took photos for the Walnut Grove Tribune, owned by his uncle, Everett Lantz. This image by Eric was awarded third place in the 1968 National Newspaper Association contest for best news photo.

FORTY-FOUR YEARS AGO TODAY Minnesota’s first F5 tornado, the most powerful with wind speeds in excess of 300 mph, plowed through the southwestern Minnesota farming community of Tracy killing nine.

Twenty-five miles to the northeast, my farmer father paused from milking cows on that sultry June 13 evening in 1968 to watch the tornado churn across the flat prairie landscape. Not wanting to unduly alarm his family, he did not warn us of the approaching storm. Only afterward, when the menacing clouds dissipated before reaching our farm, did he tell us what he’d observed through the open barn door.

Days later our family of eight piled into the family car and drove to Tracy to see the devastation.

This photo, taken by Eric J. Lantz, a printer’s devil/photographer for the Walnut Grove Tribune, was republished in  the Tracy Headlight Herald courtesy of the Tribune. It shows a damaged boat and overturned car sitting atop the rubble after the Tracy tornado of June 13, 1968.

I was an impressionable 11 ½ years old at the time. Specific memories of that destruction—except for twisted, shredded trees and tossed boxcars—have long vanished. But the overall, chaotic scene and the deaths of those nine Tracy residents are forever seared into my memory. The deadly Tracy tornado is the sole reason I dream about and fear tornadoes.

The photo by Eric J. Lantz illustrates the cover of Scott Thoma’s just-published book.

So I knew when I picked up Tracy native Scott Thoma’s recently-published book, Out of the Blue—The true story of two sisters and their miraculous survival of one of the most powerful tornadoes in Minnesota history—that the nightmare would come.

And it did, on the night I finished the chapter about sisters Linda (Haugen) Vaske, 20, and Pam Haugen, 8, who never made it to the basement of Linda’s home, I dreamed that I could not reach the basement during a tornado.

I’ve blocked out the rest of that nightmare. And for more than four decades, Linda, who was flung about by the fierce winds of that 1968 tornado as was Pam, also blocked out much of that terrifying event. That is until she and Pam sat down with Thoma, a long-time writer and newspaper reporter, to talk about that fateful evening when they nearly lost their lives.

For 44 years, Linda blamed herself for the death of the tornado’s youngest victim, 2 ½-year-old Nancy Vlahos, whom Linda’s then-husband and she were in the process of adopting. The preschooler was ripped from Linda’s arms and later found dead in the street.

While the story of the Haugen sisters and little Nancy centers the book, Thoma’s account of the Tracy tornado encompasses the stories of others, including his own. He lived less than a block from the twister’s destructive path and recalls his father searching for an elderly neighbor and unintentionally stepping upon the man’s lifeless body wrapped in a tattered drape. It was the first time he saw his father cry.

That intimate familiarity with the scenes that unfolded in the aftermath of the tornado and the understanding of how small towns pull together assure readers that Thoma is writing this for reasons which are deeply personal. He is honoring those who died, those who survived and those who helped his community of then 2,500 residents in its hours of greatest need.

You will read about Delpha Koch, who from her farm home five miles southwest of Tracy, phoned a dispatcher at 6:55 p.m. to warn of the approaching tornado, saving countless lives. Ditto for the police officer and train crew and others who alerted residents to the storm.

Delpha, a critical care nurse at the Tracy Hospital, her husband and two sons immediately headed into Tracy, arriving as screaming and stunned residents covered in dirt and silt emerged from the rubble. Almost immediately rescuers began taking the dead and injured to the hospital in a furniture delivery truck and other vehicles.

Thoma, via conversations with survivors and through extensive research, writes with absolute attention to detail, taking the reader inside that 42-bed hospital where 171 patients were seen for tornado-related injuries in the outpatient department. Twenty-three were hospitalized, including the Haugen sisters—Linda was seriously injured, Pam was not.

In what I consider one of the most memorable lines from the book, Thoma quotes Kathy Haugen, upon seeing Linda: “That’s not my sister.” Due to the extent of her injuries, Linda was unrecognizable to even her closest loved ones.

Thoma’s book is as much a tragic story of lives lost and homes and businesses damaged or destroyed as it is about a community pulling together. From Tracy Fire Chief/Fire Marshall/Civil Defense Director Bernie Holm who worked tirelessly for his community to the 80-year-old retired doctor who volunteered at the hospital to the veterinarians who sutured wounds to the farmers who brought tanks of water to the hospital and more, this is a story of how we as humans assist one another in need.

But it is also a story which emphasizes the ferocity of an F5 tornado, one of only two which have ever occurred in Minnesota, the other in nearby Chandler on June 16, 1992. One person was killed in Chandler and 35 injured.

I remember, from 1968 accounts of the Tracy tornado, the reports of tossed boxcars; a 25-ton boxcar was blown two blocks. Thoma spews out the numbers—26 toppled train cars, 111 destroyed homes, 76 houses with major damages, five businesses destroyed and 15 businesses damaged.

Yet, what impacts me most upon reading his book are the nuances of this tornado, like the account of Tracy resident Jerry Engesser discovering a book upon the rubble in his yard. He turns it over to read the title, Gone with the Wind.

And then, the bit that makes goosebumps rise on my arms comes in a partial letter found by a farmer 45 miles away near Redwood Falls. It reads:

Cliffy,
It’s raining and hailing here tonight and the wind is blowing hard…

Linda (Haugen) Vaske had just begun writing that letter to her military husband, Clifford, when the tornado swept into Tracy around 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 13, 1968, claiming nine lives and forever changing this southwestern Minnesota prairie community.

Eric J. Lantz, photographer for the Walnut Grove Tribune, also took this photo which was shared and published in the Tracy Headlight Herald. He captured this scene at the demolished Tracy Elementary School.

FYI: Click here to link to Willmar, Minnesota, author Scott Thoma’s Out of the Blue website. His book was published in May by Polaris Publications, an imprint of North Star Press of St. Cloud, Inc.

To read an earlier post I wrote about the Tracy tornado, click here. It features information from Al Koch, who is married to one of my best friends from Wabasso High School, Janette Koch. Al witnessed the Tracy tornado and destruction and his mother, Delpha, phoned the Tracy dispatcher about the approaching tornado.

My experience with tornadoes is personal. About 30 years ago, when I was already an adult and living away from home, a twister struck the farm where I grew up. Click here to read that post.

Click here to read a post about a tornado which struck my father’s childhood farm about a mile away in 1953 or 1954.

Last July 1 a series of downbursts with windspeeds of 90 – 100 mph swept through my hometown of Vesta. Read about the damage there by clicking here.

And finally, click here to read a post about a terrifying storm my husband, son, mother and I rode out in a car along a rural road north of Walnut Grove (near Tracy) two summers ago. I’ve probably never been more terrified than during those 45 minutes on that stormy, black night.

Yes, I fear and respect tornadoes. You should, too.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Copyrighted photos are courtesy of Scott Thoma and are published here with his permission. Photographer Eric J. Lantz retains the copyright to the above photos.

 DISCLAIMER: I received a free copy of Out of the Blue. However, that did not influence my decision to write this post nor its content.

 

Recovering from the Hammond flood, in the voice of a survivor September 23, 2011

FOR THE PAST YEAR, Katie Shones has been my main connection to Hammond, the southeastern Minnesota community of 230 flooded one year ago today by the raging waters of the Zumbro River.

Katie and her family—husband Scott and children Bekah and Romie—live just across Wabasha County Road 11 from the Zumbro. The floodwaters came within mere feet of their home on the east end of Hammond’s business district.

Katie Shones and her family live in this house, photographed during the September 2010 flood by Gene Reckmann.

Even though the family’s home was spared, they were still deeply impacted by the flood, especially the Shones children.

I offered Katie the opportunity to reflect on the flood and its impact on this, the one-year anniversary. Her words are sure to move you. Katie is a woman who speaks her mind and tells it like it is. (Click here to read my first interview with her in October 2010.)

Through our months of corresponding, I’ve come more and more to appreciate the resilience and strength of individuals like Katie who’ve endured so much and yet find the silver lining in the most difficult of situations.

Main Street Hammond at the height of the September 2010 flood. Water was rushing over the sidewalk and into the basement of the gray house via the cellar doors. Katie Shones' house is only two lots away from the gray house. Photo by Gene Reckmann.

Here, then, are Katie’s words:

I DO NOT LIKE to think of that day nor the days immediately following the flood. I don’t like to look at pictures, either. I shudder at the thought of being evacuated from my home and the three-plus long weeks of the National Guard patrolling the town and enforcing a 6 p.m. curfew. Check points to enter the city, not being outside after 6 p.m….

The response of people to this tragedy has been overwhelming. Complete strangers have come into the town and surrounding areas and donated hundreds, no thousands, of man hours for clean up and rebuilding. Thousands of dollars of building materials were donated and installed in homes and businesses. Local restaurants provided delicious meals.

The flood has reaffirmed my belief that people are basically good and caring deep down inside.

I cannot sing praises high enough to Lutheran Social Services. Their aid to people was up and above the call of duty. Camp Noah, (for children who have survived a natural disaster) was a positive experience for my children. Bekah and Romie could talk about their feelings and express them through art, theater, crafts, etc. LSS still has an office in Hammond to assist people.

The parks are coming along beautifully. The baseball field is usable again and a new chain link fence has been installed around it and the basketball court. Flowering crabs have been planted in the boulevard of Main Street. I can’t wait until spring to see them bloom.

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

FRUSTRATIONS. I believe there are 17 or 18 homes on the buy-out list. I am being told it will be another 18 months before the buy-out is complete. That will be 2 ½ years after the flood occurred. That is a long time to wait.

Some people are still making double payments. When those homes are demolished, it will significantly impact the tax structure of this town. What will happen to my property taxes? I also expect a dramatic increase in the water and sewer bill. We already pay about $100 a month for water and sewer…

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. Photo by Susie Buck.

I CERTAINLY RESPECT Mother Nature more now than prior to Sept. 23, 2010!  The sheer force and power of the Zumbro River was unbelievable. We did not enjoy the river this year as in years past. Bekah and I only went tubing twice this year—last year we went 13 times in one week!  Scott and Jerome took the flat bottom out a few times in 2011. Not very often compared to years past.

However, there is a silver lining to this all. People have come together to help each other. The community is much closer knit than before. Neighbors that haven’t spoken to each other for a long time stop by to chat and visit. After Scott’s neck surgery last fall, I had many offers of help for snow removal and cutting and splitting of firewood. I don’t think as many people would have helped out prior to the flood as after.

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

BEKAH AND ROMIE STILL WORRY about flooding, especially when it downpours. They monitor the weather station almost every day and keep a close eye on the river level. Rebekah doesn’t cry out in her sleep anymore, thank goodness. The bags are still packed under her bed, though. Jerome doesn’t speak of that day often. I think he is like me, I try to forget it. However, I know they will never forget that day for the rest of their lives. (Click here to read an earlier post about the flood’s impact on Bekah and Romie.)

One more thing: The flood has taught me not to sweat the little things in life. Family, friends and faith are what is important in life.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

After the flood: “A long way from normal” in Hammond September 22, 2011

HOW DOES A DEVASTATING flash flood change you and the place you call home?

I posed those and other questions to Tina Mann from Hammond, a southeastern Minnesota community ravaged last September by the overflowing waters of the Zumbro River. A year later, what is life like in Hammond for residents such as Tina, now a member of the Hammond City Council?

Here, in her words, are Tina’s reflections one day before the one-year anniversary of the flood which left her and her family living in three hotels and a rental house for three months before they could return to their Hammond home.

Tina, on her June 25 wedding day, in the bridal gown she saved when she had to evacuate her home last September. Photo by Sherwin Samaniego Photography.

How has Hammond/life in Hammond changed since the flood?

Hammond is a lot quieter now. A lot of our long time residents have left, and a lot of our regular crowd has been sporadic. But, they are slowly starting to trickle back in.

Hammond has made some new friends along the way, and we see some of them come back down from time to time, too. I predict, though, that as winter draws close, that it may taper off. I think we may be in for another very quiet Hammond winter. There are fewer children, too, which makes it hard for the few that are still here. I hope that sometime down the line, Hammond will start to see more families coming down here.

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

What still needs to be done in terms of recovery in your community? Be specific.

For the most part, weather permitting, the city should be done with the municipal repairs by the end of the month. We were able to get the park building repaired and fully restored.

On the residential end, however, things are different. FEMA and the State funded the programs to repair the Municipality of Hammond and, with some careful planning and negotiating, we were able to come very close to a pre-flood state.

But the residents did not get any FEMA aid at all. Some only qualified for a state grant, which just barely covered expenses to repair their homes. Some qualified for low-interest loans and depending on the amount of damage to the home, they may have been able to replace a few of their possessions. But without FEMA funding, most people were not compensated for their personal belongings and it may well be many years before they feel they are ‘recovered.’

Then there are those still waiting for their buy-outs. The residents on the state program have begun receiving their offers, but are still in the ‘red tape’ part of the process and have not received any funding yet, and those on the federal list (50 percent or more damage, in flood way and flood plain) have been put on hold by the federal government, and no one knows how long that is going to take.

After the flood, the gutted home of Dallas and Vicki Williamson, who relocated 35 miles away to an 1882 hilltop farmhouse in rural Cannon Falls. Photo by Sheri Ryan.

Do you need additional funding for Hammond recovery projects? Volunteers still needed? I’m wondering how that park rebuilding is going.

The ‘city’ is pretty well rebuilt and I am happy to say that we no longer need volunteers unless we decide to start some new projects.

Financially, however, we are still trying to find ways to compensate for some shortfalls. There are city employees that have not been compensated for personal expenses, such as cell phone overages, incurred while working for the city during the immediate aftermath. Although it is realized that it is a responsibility of your position, we also feel that if we can find a way to do it, it really is the right thing to do.

We also have employees who worked well beyond the normal scope of their position and they really do deserve compensation for their time, services, and personal expenditures. Although most of them haven’t asked for it, it still would be nice if somehow we could work it out. These people did a phenomenal job taking care of our city!

And we have the future to look at, too. We are probably going to loose 6-8 residential properties to the 100 percent buy-outs. There are another 10 or so on the 50/50 buy-out list And those who choose the 50/50 but do not rebuild, of course their property value will decrease dramatically.

This is going to have financial consequences to our tax base, which is going to result in higher property tax and water and sewer bills for every business and property owner in Hammond.

And we need to take a look at what we are going to do with all of the new green space in town. When we lose the residents to the 100 percent buy-outs, those properties become ‘green space’ by law. That means that the lots become city property that cannot have permanent structures built on them. Many of these lots are centrally located in the middle of a residential area. The city is going to be moving into phase two of the recovery, which is the long-term aspect…and we do have a lot of things to think about and consider.

This photo shows the destroyed road that goes from Wabasha County Road 11 to the business area on the east side of Hammond. Waters were receding in this photo taken mid-morning on Saturday, September 25, 2010, by Jenny Hoffman.

Is there a sense of frustration about anything or are things going well?

Yes, there has been, and is, a lot of frustration. It has been a very long, hard process trying to filter through the red tape to realize what is the ‘city’s’ responsibility, what is the ‘residents’” responsibility, and what programs are responsible for what.

A lot of phone calls from residents, confused about who they should be speaking to. Frustration because the process is very slow. The city has very few answers for the residents who are working with the buy-out program and it’s been hard to convey the message that the city has nothing to do with that part of it and we really have no answers for them. All we can do is direct them back to the agencies they are working with.

We have lawns that are not being mowed, properties that have been abandoned since the flood. The residents that have rebuilt are frustrated because the ‘clean-up’ won’t be complete until these issues are resolved, and we don’t know how long it is going to take.

Our city is coming together, but we really are still a long way from being back to normal.

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 & Tina Mann.

What was the biggest single impact of the flood on you emotionally? Did it change you in any way?

Watching the hurricanes and flooding in the east was really hard and I realized that my emotions are still very raw. I could not control my weeping as I watched the news and saw the devastation in the eyes of those people. I know how that feels, I’ve been there….. It still hurts very much. I doubt that feeling is ever going to go away.

Becoming involved with the city on the council has opened my eyes to a lot, and yes, it has changed me. This flood and the impact it is going to continue to have on this area for years to come is bigger than what the eye can see. We are going to be dealing with this for a long time.

On a personal level, I am dealing with the impact by being involved with the revolution of Hammond. I have been very busy planning the Anniversary Party (set for Saturday, September 24) and working on the council ‘learning the ropes’. I plan to be involved in finding the solutions to the challenges that are before us, and help guide Hammond into the future.

Hammond's riverside park was all but destroyed by the flood. Marks on the shelter roof show how high the water rose. A baseball field next to the shelter, with a fence around it, is covered by receding floodwaters. Jenny Hoffman took this photo at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2010.

THANK YOU, TINA, for sharing your thoughts. You have always been open and honest, never holding back, and I appreciate that. We can all learn a thing or 10 from you about the strength of the human spirit and the strength of community.

READERS, PLEASE CHECK BACK for another post featuring thoughts from Hammond resident Katie Shones.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling