Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Part I: Minnesota disasters up close April 14, 2016

The panel to the right introduces the Minnesota Disasters exhibit with each panel featuring a different disaster in our state.

The panel to the right introduces the Minnesota Disasters exhibit with each panel featuring a different disaster in our state.

DISASTER. How do you define that word? In a Minnesota Historical Society Traveling Exhibit currently displayed at the Steele County History Center in Owatonna, disaster covers everything from tornadoes to the 35W bridge collapse to the grasshopper plague, drought, blizzards and more.

I personally remember many Minnesota disasters—such as the bridge collapse; the Halloween blizzard of 1991; the 1998 St. Peter-Comfrey tornadoes; the 1968 Tracy tornado which killed nine; the drought of 1976; and the devastating floods of September 2010.

During Severe Weather Awareness Week, we prepare for dangerous storms like tornadoes. One panel in the exhibit highlights some of Minnesota's deadliest and most devastating tornadoes. The Tracy tornado was not included.

During Severe Weather Awareness Week, we prepare for dangerous storms like tornadoes. One panel in the exhibit highlights some of Minnesota’s deadliest and most devastating tornadoes. The Tracy tornado was not included.

This week, Minnesota Severe Weather Awareness Week, seems an appropriate time to focus on the topic of disasters and to show you the MHS exhibit, Minnesota Disasters: Stories of Strength and Survival.

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, 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. This copyrighted photo is courtesy of Scott Thoma with the original copyright retainted by Lantz.

I expect many of you have been, at some point, personally impacted by a disaster. The deadly Tracy tornado forever put the fear of tornadoes in my heart. That southwestern Minnesota community lies only 25 miles from my hometown; I saw the devastation in Tracy. Decades later, a tornado damaged the farm where I grew up and high winds partially ripped the roof from my home church of St. John’s Lutheran in Vesta. I respect the powerful forces of nature, specifically of wind.

A debris pile on the edge of the church parking lot includes pieces of steel from the roof and brick from the bell tower. Photo taken in September 2011.

A debris pile on the edge of the St. John’s Lutheran Church parking lot includes pieces of steel from the roof (covered with a tarp here) and brick from the bell tower. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2011.

Elsewhere in Minnesota—in Belview, St. Peter and individual farm sites across Minnesota—I’ve seen the damage a tornado can cause.  I reported on and photographed tornado damage while working as a newspaper reporter. When a tornado warning siren blows, you won’t see me standing in the driveway looking for the twister. I’ll be sheltering in the basement.

I cannot imagine so many grasshoppers that they obliterated everything.

I cannot imagine grasshoppers so thick that they obliterated everything.

As I perused the MHS disaster exhibit and the accompanying stories of disasters in Steele County, I realized the depth of loss Minnesotans have endured. The Grasshopper Plague of 1873-1877 recounts how locusts devoured even the laundry hanging on clotheslines.

I knew nothing of the flooding at the Milford Mine until I read this panel.

I knew nothing of the flooding at the Milford Mine until I read this panel.

On February 5, 1924, forty-one miners drowned in the Milford Mine near Crosby in northern Minnesota. “For God’s sake, run!” one miner shouted to his co-workers. A warning like that floods the mind with fear. I’d never heard of the mine disaster until touring the MHS exhibit in Owatonna. Now I’ll never forget it.

Because I have extended family in the Hinckley area, I was fully aware of The Great Hinckley Fire of 1894 which claimed 418 lives. To read of feet baking inside shoes and stockings from the fire is horrifying.

The devastation of dust and drought are covered in this panel.

The devastation of dust and drought are covered in this panel.

As bad as those and many other natural disasters, Minnesotans voted the drought of the 1920s and 30s (the Dust Bowl era) as the “number-one state weather event of the 20th century,” according to information posted in the exhibit. I was born decades after that disaster. But, as a teen, I recall a Good Friday dust storm that blew into Redwood County. We were shopping in nearby Marshall and arrived home to find the house layered in dirt; we’d left the windows open. For hours we worked to wash away the grime.

This huge, hard-as-rock snowdrift blocked our farm driveway in this March 1965 photo. I think my uncle drove over from a neighboring farm to help open the drive so the milk truck to reach the milkhouse.

This huge, hard-as-rock snowdrift blocked our rural Vesta driveway in this March 1965 photo. My uncle drove over from a neighboring farm to help open the drive so the milk truck could reach the milkhouse. I’m standing here with my mom, older brother and three younger siblings.

Blizzards, especially, imprinted upon my memory. There is nothing like a prairie blizzard that drives snow across open farm fields, sculpting the snow into rock-hard drifts around buildings and trees. Those winter storms of the 1960s and mid-1970s created all kinds of problems with roads closed, the power out and cows to be milked. Snowstorms of today don’t compare. And, no, I didn’t walk two miles to school uphill in a blizzard. Rather, in one particularly snowy winter, I rode to town on my dad’s cab-less John Deere tractor so I could catch the bus at Don’s Cafe to ride the 20 miles to junior high school in Redwood Falls. The bus drove sometimes on a single lane cut through snowbanks higher than the bus.

More panels in the Minnesota Disasters exhibit.

More panels in the Minnesota Disasters exhibit.

Tell me, what’s your story of dealing with a natural disaster? If you don’t have one, be thankful.

FYI: Check back tomorrow for a look at disasters in Steele County, Minnesota. The disasters exhibit will be on display through March 2017 at the history center in Owatonna. Click here for more information.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Couple grateful to survive Belview tornado July 8, 2011

TOM AND DeLORES JOHNSON never reached their storm shelter late Friday afternoon, July 1, when an EF-1 tornado blew into Belview. They didn’t have time.

But for the Johnsons, that turned out to be a good thing.

“The storm shelter was ripped up by the big tree that stood next to it…we would have been injured or possibly killed if we would have been in it,” DeLores surmises. Instead, they managed to seek protection in the basement of their 1898 home.

The storm cellar where the Johnsons would have sought protection had they had time to reach it.

“We are grateful to be alive,” DeLores says, a statement likely echoed by other rural and small-town residents in southwestern Minnesota where a wide-spread July 1 storm spawned four EF-1 tornadoes and a more powerful EF-2 twister. Belview was among the communities hardest hit when the tornado, with winds of 95 – 105 mph, ravaged this town of 375.

The Johnsons are in the process of cleaning up, dealing with insurance adjusters and gathering estimates so they can begin repairs on the 113-year-old house they’ve lived in since 1988. The list of damages to their home is extensive:

  • chimney blown down
  • rafters broken in the attic
  • shingles missing
  • paint blown off house
  • broken window
  • water damage to walls, ceilings, maple floors and carpet
  • roofs on two porches damaged and in need of replacement

The Johnsons' 1898 house was damaged inside and out by last Friday's tornado. DeLores offered to take photos of the interior for me, but I figured she had enough to do without adding this to her list.

A view of the house roof where the chimney was ripped off by the tornado.

DeLores shares some interesting details about the storm. “The wind blew water through the air conditioner in the bedroom upstairs and blew the water so it ran across the hall into another bedroom. It soaked up the carpet in the hallway and that in turn ran down into our living room.

“Upstairs in my office, water also blew through the air conditioner there. The shade has ground-up leaves stuck into it as does the shade in the bedroom.”

And that’s just the house.

The garage received structural damage when a tree toppled onto it and onto Tom’s  SUV. His vehicle was totaled.

A tree fell onto the garage and Tom's SUV, which was totaled.

The Johnsons lost nine trees, some of which fell onto a 100-year-old fence that DeLores says they’ve lovingly protected for years.

One of several trees that landed on the 100-year-old fence.

One of numerous downed trees.

Despite the severe damage to home and property, DeLores is grateful that they survived the storm.

She is also appreciative of all the help from family members and others. “Men from Belgrade, Long Prairie and Sauk Centre came and sawed up trees for us and helped to clean up. They were volunteers who we had never seen.”

NEARBY ON A WOOD LAKE area farm, my cousin, Marilyn Schmidt, expressed similar sentiments in an email I received at noon Thursday. “Lucky no loss of life. Fortunately, we were not home.”

Marilyn and her husband, Dan, had just arrived at a west-central Minnesota lake for the July Fourth weekend when an EF-1 tornado hit their Redwood County farm one week ago today.

Since then, with the help of family and residents from Cottonwood, the Schmidts are cleaning up. Click here to read a previous post about the storm damage at their place.

Their son, Matt, was at the farm with a crew on Thursday when Marilyn emailed.

She tells me that all of their neighbors to the south and east and some north and some west had major damage to their properties. The Schmidts’ insurance adjuster already had gotten 1,500 claims by Tuesday night.

Marilyn closed her brief email with this sentence: “Gotta go—men to feed!!!”

IN VESTA, WHERE A SERIES OF DOWNBURSTS with wind speeds of 90 – 100 mph caused significant damage and downed trees, members of St. John’s Lutheran Church are planning to repair their church. The south half of the church roof was lifted off and slammed against the bell tower, according to my uncle, Milan Stage, a church member. The tower was cracked at the base and will need to be taken down, he says.

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Vesta with the roof half ripped off by strong winds during the Friday afternoon storm. Photo courtesy of Brian Kletscher.

Everything has been removed from the sanctuary into the attached social hall. The congregation is awaiting reports from an insurance adjuster and two contractors who have been on-site.

Milan says the west end and sides of St. John’s appear to be alright, but that “It will be a slow process getting the church back in use.” The church council met Wednesday evening and decided, if funds are available, to remodel the church along with repairing it. In the meantime, congregational members will worship at their sister church, Peace, in nearby Echo.

Across town at Uncle Milan and Aunt Jeanette’s home, the high winds wrecked eave troughs and a deck railing. A branch went through the railing, taking half of the railing and the grill with it, Milan says. Tops were snapped from some ash trees in the Stages’ back yard. Branches from their big cottonwood tree were strewn across the lawn.

JUST A BLOCK TO THE SOUTH my 79-year-old mom, Arlene Kletscher, never made it to the basement during the storm. She was sitting in her living room sorting through papers and wanted to complete the task. In her closed-up, air conditioned house, she never heard the warning sirens. By the time she realized the severity of the situation, it was already too late to seek safety.

This marks the second time my mom has not gotten to safety during a severe storm. Thirty some years ago a tornado hit our home farm, where she was living at the time. Then a silo was downed, wagons strewn across the field, among other destruction.

I am thankful, again, that she is OK.

My mom’s Vesta home was apparently unscathed. However, she lost one tree and her yard was littered with branches and other debris.

READERS, THANK YOU for following my series of storm stories which began last Saturday. Yesterday Minnesota Prairie Roots’ views reached an all-time daily high of 1,443. That indicates to me a continued strong interest in the storms of southwestern Minnesota.

I know several of you have posted links to my blogs on Facebook. Thank you for doing that and also thanks to those who have shared their stories and photos. If you’re reading this and have a storm-related story to share, please submit a comment.

If you missed my earlier storm posts, check my archives. Many of those stories include links to more storm information and images.

PHOTOS COURTESY of DeLores and Tom Johnson

© Copyright 2011 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


Vote to rebuild parks in four flooded Minnesota communities June 9, 2011

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

FOR SOME TIME NOW, I’ve been committed to helping the folks of Hammond in southeastern Minnesota recover from a devastating September 2010 flood.

I’ve assisted in the best way I can—not physically—but with words and photos on this blog. We all possess talents and mine are not hanging sheetrock or swinging a hammer. I write. There is power in words.

Last October I brought you a series of stories and photos from Hammond and neighboring Zumbro Falls, where I interviewed several individuals and shot many photos showing the damage caused by the flooded Zumbro River. The women I spoke to shared heartbreaking stories. Yet, they remained strong. That impressed me.

I spoke to Tracy Yennie in Zumbro Falls several weeks after the flood damaged her home.

A gutted, flood-ravaged home in Zumbro Falls.

The exposed side of the restaurant/grocery, where a portion of a building once stood in Hammond. The building lies in a heap in the street.

I saw gutted homes and businesses, a child’s toy lying in a pile of discarded appliances. Truly, I could not fathom the personal loss of possessions and home.

In March I published a series of stories about Tina Marlowe and her family, who lost so much to the floodwaters in Hammond. Hers was one story of many that you will never hear. Some residents have decided not to return. Others await possible buy-outs or funding to repair their homes.

But beyond the individual losses, these towns have suffered as communities. They’ve lost gathering spots and places for their children to play. Parks need rebuilding. To do this, these communities need money.

Marlowe, who was recently elected to the Hammond City Council, has started the Hammond Park Flood Recovery Project and is accepting donations of monies, materials and labor to rebuild the recreational areas in her river hamlet.

Send donations to: City of Hammond Park Flood Recovery Project, 320 East Center Street, Hammond, MN. 55991. Click here to learn more about this effort.


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 on September 25, 2010.

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

AND NOW A 16-YEAR-OLD Zumbrota-Mazeppa High School student, Amy Schultz, has stepped up, leading the push to secure a $50,000 Pepsi Refresh Project grant that will repair flood-damaged parks in Zumbro Falls, Hammond, Pine Island and Owatonna.

Schultz tried for a grant earlier this year, focusing solely on Zumbro Falls and Hammond. Now she’s expanded her area, hoping that the inclusion of Pine Island and Owatonna will mean more votes. The top 10 projects, those with the most votes, get the $50,000.

Simple? Yes. Just vote by:

Voting continues through June. When I checked the ranking for this project on Wednesday morning, Schultz’s idea stood at number 27. Let’s blast that number into the top 10.

This high schooler is determined. Just read this information I found online, in news releases she sent to cities, Chambers of Commerce and elsewhere: “The local parks are part of the fabric that joins these picturesque river towns together. It is where families and friends come to play and visitors come to sit by the riverside all summer long. So many memories have been made here over the years and we need to restore them for current and future generations.”

Convincing words from a young woman who wants to make a difference in four Minnesota communities still recovering from the September 2010 flash floods.

Vote today and every day until the end of June for the “Rebuild Parks in Owatonna, Zumbro Falls, Pine Island and Hammond MN” project.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Flood updates from southern Minnesota March 23, 2011

AS YOU WOULD EXPECT, Minnesotans are keeping a close watch on rising rivers, creeks and streams as rain and snow continue to fall across much of our state.

Here in Faribault, sandbagging has begun at the wastewater treatment plant, which flooded during last September’s flash flood. Sandbags have been filled and are available to property owners. The city has an emergency plan in place to deal with any flooding.

Faribault officials are working to protect the city's water reclamation plant which sits along the Straight River and which was flooded in a September 2010 flood. This photo is from September 2010.

Thankfully, the precipitation—rain, sleet and then snow overnight—have stopped in Faribault.

Further to the south, I’ve heard from Katie Shones of Hammond, a Wabasha County village nestled along the Zumbro River. Last September Hammond and nearby Zumbro Falls were devastated by the same flash flood that occurred in Faribault.

Katie updated me just this afternoon on the situation in Hammond. “So far, no sandbagging in the area,” Katie writes. “We are under a flood warning in Wabasha County, just as much of southern Minnesota. The Zumbro is high, but it is still contained in its banks. People are watching the river closely as you can well imagine.”

Looking down on Hammond during the September 2010 flash flood. Photo courtesy of Hammond residents Micheal Mann and Tina Marlowe.

Sadly, yesterday the spring floods claimed the life of a Minnesota Department of Transportation worker who was swept away by floodwaters after his backhoe tipped into Seven Mile Creek, which feeds into the Minnesota River. The accident happened between Mankato and St. Peter along U.S. Highway 169 when Michael Struck 39, of Cleveland, was attempting to clean out flood debris, according to an article in The Free Press, Mankato. His body was found today in Seven Mile Creek County Park.

Please be careful out there, and if you have any reports you would like to share about flood preparedness, flooding or other weather in your area of Minnesota, please submit a comment.

© Copyright 2011 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 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


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