Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Waiting on FEMA in Zumbro Falls October 11, 2010

“WE’RE ALL REDNECKS,” she says.

But she doesn’t mean the term in a negative way. Rather Tracy Yennie implies that she and her neighbors in flood-ravaged Zumbro Falls are hard-scrabble, independent folks who are determined to stay put.

“The whole town is awesome. Everybody knows everybody,” says Yennie, who’s called this place home all 31 years of her life. Up until the September 23/24 floods, she and her family lived in a house several hundred yards from the Zumbro River along “the river road,” Wabasha County Road 68, just outside of town.

Since the flood deposited four feet of mud and cinder block in her basement leaving her home uninhabitable, she’s been camping—in a shed on her property—and waiting on FEMA. “They’re just dragging their feet. They’re not affected,” she says, the frustration in her voice palpable.

With winter approaching, she’s worried about where she—where anyone in this town—will live.

“This has been the most stressful two weeks of my life,” Yennie says as she hangs out next to the Salvation Army trailer, across the street from the fire hall/city hall turned command center on a Sunday afternoon.

 

 

Tracy Yennie hangs out in downtown Zumbro Falls.

 

For weeks now this mother of four boys, ages 2 – 9, has been sifting through her life, she says, trying to decide which of her belongings to keep and which to throw.

Early on, when she talked with her boyfriend on the phone as he watched the river rise and cross the road toward her home (she was out of town), she knew what was most important. She told him to save the baby pictures. But he couldn’t find them. Yennie later found the box of pictures buried in mud. She threw the photos in a bucket of water, dried and saved them.

She understands what can, and can’t, be replaced.

For the most part, Yennie sounds strong. But you can see the worry in her tired eyes and sometimes hear it in her voice, when the tough veneer cracks just a bit. “People are starting to get stressed,” she says, repeating that word, “stressed.”

She has no flood insurance. Few residents did. The town isn’t in a flood plain, she says.

 

 

A flood-damaged home in downtown Zumbro Falls.

 

 

The owner of this water-ravaged home along Minnesota Highway 60, the main route through Zumbro Falls, still has a sense of humor as Halloween approaches.

 

Despite all of her worries about the future, despite her anger at FEMA, Yennie is quick to praise the Red Cross, the church groups and others who have thronged to this community to assist flood victims.

 

 

A Red Cross Disaster Relief vehicle pulls into the command center at the fire hall Sunday afternoon.

 

Twenty-four men from Barron, Wisconsin, with Mennonite Disaster Services, came to her aid, helping with clean-up at her riverside home. She’s grateful to them.

 

 

Inside the Zumbro Falls fire hall, a Thank You Wall recognizes those who have helped with flood recovery.

 

Now, as Yennie ponders a question about life someday returning to “normal,” she laughs. “What’s normal?” she asks. “Normal is a setting on a washing machine.”

 

 

Trash containers line gutted businesses in downtown Zumbro Falls as the community works toward returning to "normal."

 

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling