Never the same: Five years later, displaced residents remember the flood

2012-08-22T00:00:00Z 2012-08-23T09:26:38Z Never the same: Five years later, displaced residents remember the floodBy Tesla Rodriquez tesla.rodriquez@winonadailynews.com Winona Daily News

Powerful floodwaters in 2007 destroyed the Minnesota City bridge, damaged more than 300 homes in Goodview, left 3 to 4 feet of mud on roads, and raised Goodview Lake as much as 15 feet above normal.

In Goodview, which suffered an estimated $7.7 million in damages, about 2,000 tons — 100 semi loads — of waste was collected the first week alone.

Five years later, the bridge has been rebuilt, a new pump has been put in the lake and most houses look like new.

From the outside, things appear normal again.

But in the hearts of those involved, things will never be the same.

Some chat about the memories around campfires and cookouts. For others, the flood is a memory best left forgotten. The scars never healed.

The water that rushed through Stockton continued east with a swift and commanding force, heading into the Gunderson district, the edge of Minnesota City, the Saehler Anderson district, Sunny Acres and finally into Goodview Lake, which held the stagnant water for almost a week.

15 minutes to flee

A little before 3 a.m. on Aug. 19, Shelly Hesch and her husband awoke to neighbors pounding on their door. When they answered, water was up to the front step of their two-story home on Sherry Drive — a road with 24 houses in a low-lying area.

Shelly woke up her 3-year-old boys and her 7-year-old daughter and told them to get dressed. She scurried to put the kids’ shoes on, but the water was already too high to leave by car.

Within a minute or so neighbors arrived in a boat. While Shelly frantically looked for her son’s missing boot, the neighbors scooped up the kids and left.

Shelly ran upstairs to grab what valuables she could as the water began to make its way through the door. She took wedding rings. Her husband grabbed their puppy.

As they fled Shelly was nearly swept away. On either side of the driveway were deep pools of water.

By 3:15 a.m. they made it to dry ground, just as their cars began to float.

Five years later, everything damaged hasn’t been replaced. The Heschs have had to keep paying the mortgage plus repair bills. They’ve trimmed their budget where they could and replaced what they’ve been able to.

A ceiling fan here. A new tub there.

Last Christmas, Shelly and her husband bought a new bed. Their goal this Christmas is to buy a new dresser.

As for many who lost belongings in the flood, the Heschs lost items that can’t be replaced. Only the pictures hanging on walls were salvageable.

Now Shelly backs up every new precious memories online.

She hopes it won’t happen again. But there’s no way to tell. She’s just grateful no one in her family died.

“It could have very easily turned out badly,” she said. “Nothing would have compared if I would have lost one of them.”

Floodwaters carve a new path

As the flood arrived on the outskirts of Minnesota City, it followed Garvin Brook.

For a while.

When the water was blocked under the Minnesota City bridge by floating debris, the brook swelled from 10 feet wide and 3 feet deep to more than 30 feet wide.

The water began to carve new paths.

One went past the post office on Mill Street and into the yard of Jim and Kathy Shoen.

Jim looked out an upstairs window about 4:30 a.m. to see water flowing over the wall separating his yard and the ditch.

Then he watched as a 60-foot Chinese Elm tree smashed into the wall he spent three years building.

We should find a nice hotel, he thought.

The yard and septic system suffered serious damages. About 17 inches of water filled the basement.

Just a nuisance, Jim and Kathy said. Others had it worse.

Kathy saw the ruined yard as an opportunity. A chance to be more creative. Jim built stairs leading down to a lower platform that used to be a fireplace. Now it’s become a relaxing place for their family to gather, cook food, and enjoy each other’s company.

“With a little creativity and a lot of work you can make lemonade out of lemons,” Kathy said.

A rescue

The water, now blocked form its normal path, flowed southeast along the railroad tracks and into Sunny Acres.

Among the 50 houses deluged on 6th Street, 6th Place, and Cindy Drive was the house of Goodview City Council member Steve Baumgart.

The water seeped into the furnished basement of the newly built house where his infant granddaughter, Aly, slept in her crib.

Steve awoke to the phone.

Steve, this is Russ, your neighbor. Are you aware there’s a flood?

No, Steve said.

You better get up.

Click.

Steve’s wife, Mary, bolted downstairs to find water up to her knees and the door to her granddaughter’s room blocked.

She plowed through the door and grabbed Aly.

She was floating in her portable crib.

Soon water swept through the front door and into rooms filled with new furniture.

But Aly was alive.

The rest was just stuff.

Today the Baumgarts keep their valuables upstairs—just in case.

They have new furniture, the walls have been rebuilt, lights back in place, the basement floor recarpeted, and trim finally put in place.

“It was refreshing to say everything is done,” Steve said.

Fearing another flood, but stuck

Down the road from the Baumgarts the water carved its way to Cindy Kaehler’s house.

Cindy was already awake and listening to her police scanner after hearing that Stockton flooded.

About 4:30 a.m. she heard the north side of Minnesota City was being evacuated.

She looked outside her window and saw 2 feet of water in her lawn.

She ran downstairs to grab her daughter.

By 5:15 a.m. her family of four was on top of a hill nearby, looking down at the destruction of their neighborhood.

All Cindy could think about was her mother, who lived right across the highway.

“I couldn’t get there to help,” she said. “There was just this sick feeling.”

She found out later her mother made it out safely.

Today her basement remains untouched and her garage is still in need of repairs.

A forgivable loan from the state came in handy but she still needs to pay the mortgage, as well as costs of repairs. Because she took the loan, she can’t move until 10 years to the date she accepted it.

That wouldn’t be a problem — if she didn’t think her house might flood again.

“I don’t have any options,” Cindy said.

Final destination

After rushing through Sunny Acres, the water arrived in Goodview Lake, where it raised the lake 12 to 15 feet.

The water flooded about 78 Lakeside Manor apartments and in LaCanne Park rose to the pavilion’s roof.

It would not leave for a week, not until officials figured out a plan to drain the lake.

It damaged six houses, including the one Leiha and Rollis Larson had just made into the perfect retirement home.

Nice furniture, beautiful view, a hot tub in the backyard, plenty of room, and no second-story floor to worry about climbing up to as they got older.

No second story to escape to, to keep possessions safe.

Everything they owned was destroyed.

Just three pieces of furniture were salvageable—Leiha’s grandmother’s chest, a futon and a desk. Everything else was under more than 4 feet of water.

Rollis lost his mother’s piano from the 1920s, Leiha precious items from her father, who died when she was 12.

They didn’t re-enter the house until 50 days later.

Today it’s difficult to tell the house was ever flooded.

The furniture has been replaced. Carpet and flooring has been reinstalled, the dishes restocked, the washer and dryer fixed.

But in the days after the flood, it wasn’t what the Larsons thought much about.

“All the sudden that wasn’t important anymore,” Leiha said.

Instead, they remember only the community’s response to the disaster.

Helping hands

“We have always been touched by the way people rose to help us,” Rollis said.

“Family, friends, strangers.”

Copyright 2015 Winona Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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