Seventeen inches of rain in twenty-four hours in the bluff country of southeastern Minnesota and the morning revealed devastation beyond anyone’s expectations and seven deaths.
My Mother’s home is less than a mile from the Mississippi River, less than a mile from Garvin Brook, which the creek that goes by my home and Rollingstone feeds into as a tributary, and less than a mile from Goodview Lake—Lake LaCanne. An 1874 Victorian farmhouse, it sits on high ground surveying the now sprawling suburbs that were farmland in my youth. That morning, and for more than a week afterward, those suburbs were a swamp covering the first floors of most of the homes.
The radio was blaring reports of Lake LaCanne rising 4 to 5 feet overnight flooding the condominiums and apartments that sat along its banks and many businesses that had built near to it. Rushford and many of the towns along the Root River in Houston and Fillmore counties were flooded. Bridges were gone, highways impassable, levees were breached, entire small towns were evacuated, Whitewater Park was littered with camper trailers picked up by the floodwaters and strewn over 5 miles downstream.
Television news crews in helicopters showed pictures of landslides that carried entire houses down bluffs—and the residents actually survived! Entire towns flooded to their roof tops. Houses swept from their foundations sitting on railroad tracks, the bridge that I had crossed just a few hours before was gone!
Most of southeast Minnesota was in an electrical blackout. Most phone service was out, even cell phones. The Governor was talking about declaring the whole of southeastern Minnesota a Federal Disaster Area. The Red Cross and the National Guard were being mobilized. FEMA would be here within a couple of days. And the body count was rising, eventually seven people were found dead from the effects of the torrential rains.
In twenty-four hours everything had changed…
The weather service had not predicted an out-of-the-ordinary storm. We had been dry that summer and needed the rain on that mid-August night. But not seventeen inches—the storm of the millennium they eventually called it, without warning.
Seven people died that night: a water laden bluff created a landslide that took out a portion of road, in the pounding rain, overdriving their headlights or not able to stop in time, a couple plunged 30 feet into the chasm created by the landslide; a mobile home was swept away by a creek and one man died unable to get out; a man was standing near a stream bank watching the flooding when the bank collapsed under him; a dry wash had flooded a road and swept a couple in a car into its raging currents; and a bridge collapsed carrying the vehicle into the torrent, husband and wife escaped the vehicle and the husband valiantly saved his wife before he was swept away, his last words to her, “I love you.”
I had stood on the edge of our creek bank watching the raging waters, I wondered if the bank was still there.
I later came to find out that five minutes after I partially floated across the bridge in Rollingstone that emergency personnel had put barricades up on the road to prevent anyone else from venturing into the rising waters and potentially being swept away.
And I learned that the Minnesota City bridge I had crossed less than a mile from my Mother’s had had a semi-trailer lodged against it that backed the waters of the creek up to overflowing and took the bridge out less than forty-five minutes after I crossed it—there were no exact times for when the bridge went out, but I had felt the shuddering.
I could not reach my husband. Was he alive or dead? Did I still have a home? Were the horses okay? Roads were blocked, people were being advised to stay put and I had no idea how much my life was about to change…