Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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

 

One year later: A thank you party in flood-damaged Hammond September 21, 2011

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

NEARLY A YEAR AGO, residents of  Zumbro Falls and nearby Hammond were evacuating their homes during a devastating flash flood.

They were not prepared—could not have been prepared—for the rapidly rising Zumbro River that would inundate their homes and businesses on September 23/24, displacing them for months and many of them permanently.

Within three weeks of the flooding, while on a Sunday afternoon drive to view the fall colors, my husband and I drove into Zumbro Falls. There I met Jackie, Tracy and Susie. Just down the road in Hammond, I met Katie.

Tracy Yennie of Zumbro Falls, whom I photographed shortly after the flood which left her without a home and living temporarily in a shed.

These four women shared their stories and frustrations and worries with me. In return, I published what I today consider some of the most powerful posts I have ever written. Click here to read this flood series published on October 11, 2010.

Flooding in Hammond, one year ago. Photo by Susie Buck.

My coverage of the flood did not end then. These women so impressed me with their fortitude, their strength and their outspokenness that I continued to follow one of them, Katie Shones of Hammond, throughout the year. Katie was my go-to person any time I wanted an update from her Wabasha County community of 230. Not once did she suggest that I was intruding into her life. In fact, she has gone above and beyond in answering my many questions. She also introduced me to her dear friend, Tina (Marlowe) Mann.

Tina and I have never met, but we’ve corresponded numerous times via e-mail. Like Katie, Tina has always, always, been forthright and open with me. She allowed me to share her story in a March 13-19 series. Click here to read the first of those six posts.

Via my connections with Katie and Tina, I was able to inform you of the need for volunteer help in Hammond. And at least two readers responded with crews to assist in Hammond. Others of you may have responded in ways that I’ll never know.

This weekend Hammond is celebrating its recovery with a “Thank You” party. “We would like anyone who was impacted, donated, volunteered, or showed compassion for Hammond to come back down and see how far we’ve come and allow us to show our appreciation – the Hammond way!!!” Tina wrote in a recent e-mail. She invited me to attend and said I could spread the word.

So, if you fall into that “impacted, donated, volunteered or showed compassion for Hammond” category, make your way to this picturesque riverside berg on Saturday, September 24, to celebrate with Tina and Katie and their families and the other residents, and former residents, of Hammond.

The first day back into their flooded Hammond home, Vicki and Dallas Williamson had 20 minutes to grab whatever they could carry on the back of a four-wheeler. The family did not move back. Photo by Sheri Ryan.

Tina, who now serves on the city council; Hammond Bar co-owner Janice Farris; Hammond Café co-owner Cindy Campbell; former Mayor Judy Radke; and flood-affected resident Beau Mischke did the initial planning for the party and pulled in many local residents to help with activities, according to Tina.

Here’s the schedule of events:

  • 2:30 p.m., park dedication
  • 2:45 p.m., Kiddy Carnival
  • following the carnival, horseshoes at the Hammond Bar & bean bags at the Hammond Cafe
  • 3 p.m., corn husking in the park
  • 5 p.m., free sweet corn and hot beef sandwiches
  • Also, live music by Led Penny and Bad Logic and fireworks at dusk.

As you might guess in a small town, the entire event and door prizes are being covered by donations from businesses, residents, friends of Hammond and clubs. I’m not going to list them for fear of omitting someone.

Suffice to say you would be impressed.

And just one more thing. Tina tells me that by the end of the month, 12 crab apple trees will be planted on Main Street and in the east end of the park in honor of the children of Hammond affected by the flood.  Those, too, have been donated, by a Rochester nursery and garden center. Click here to read an earlier post about the affect of the flooding on Katie Shones’ children.

I never doubted that the folks of southeastern Minnesota would rebound from the devastating flood of September 2010. I knew it when I met Jackie, Tracy, Susie and Katie. These are strong, determined women. Nothing would stop them from reclaiming their communities.

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

CHECK BACK FOR A POST tomorrow in which Tina Mann shares her thoughts on the past year and how her community has worked toward recovery. As in the past, Tina speaks with an honest, open voice that will touch your heart.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling