Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Great Flood of 2007

Southeastern Minnesota and southwestern Wisconsin were declared federal disaster areas after torrential rains received August 18-19. Rainfall in our area generally ranged from 13 to 17 inches in 24 hours, with additional rain falling over the next several days. This rain produced flash flooding, the likes of which had never been seen before in these parts. People along creeks were evacuated from their homes in the middle of the night. Nearly the entire town of Rushford, just 12 miles west of here, was underwater. Yet I had no clue anything was up when I got up Sunday morning, August 19.

I soon learned the bridge leading into our valley was intact, but there was no road left on either side of it. The two homes by the bridge had been flooded, and there was a mudslide across the steep little minimum maintenance road leading out the back of our valley. The only "damage" to our property was an inch or two of water in our unfinished basement because it rained so hard.

The Houston Nature Center summer intern, Kevin Anderson, was able to make it in to work that Sunday since he lives up on the ridge near Spring Grove. Miraculously I still had phone service, so we worked out what he should bring home with him by phone, because the City of Houston was being evacuated. The Root River was at its highest level ever recorded, and if we received the three inches of rain predicted for that night, the water would top the levee.

We didn't get the additional rain, thank God, so Kevin returned everything to the nature center after people were allowed back into Houston. Alice and I took five days off from work since we couldn't get to town without driving 48 miles through an assortment of tiny roads that managed to remain intact. (We only live 5 miles from town.)

I was back to work Friday since the road to our bridge was patched late Thursday. I had two days of catching up before the next chapter of the flood episode started on Sunday: the nature center became home for a Samaritan's Purse disaster relief team and two FEMA disaster housing inspectors.

Four to five Samaritans, mostly from the southeastern United States, slept in the Houston Nature Center's meeting room for a couple of weeks. The Samaritan's NASCAR hauler and two campers were parked in the parking lot, along with their trucks, Bobcat, and other equipment. The FEMA inspectors from Maine also had a camper set up in the parking lot. The center's showers got heavy usage, and I had to ask Tri-County Electric to override the load management control so everyone could get warm showers, which they obligingly did even though they were in a temporary location since their offices in Rushford had flooded.

Life settled into a busy schedule. The Samaritans generally headed out for the day as I came into work. The FEMA inspectors popped in and out all day to use our phone lines to transmit reports and get more inspections since their wireless connections didn't work in Houston. I'd chat with them when they were in, and sometimes visited with the Samaritans when they'd come back just as I was leaving. A large number of shorter term Samaritan volunteers came in to meet Alice and watch the "At Home With Alice" video. I stopped in a few evenings for chats with the Samaritans (and started to pick up a bit of a drawl!) and visits with the FEMA inspectors. It was great fun to be surrounded by so many wonderful people! (Not that I was getting much work accomplished, but it was fun.)

A few days before the Samaritans left my husband and I were invited to their evening meal. We were treated to a steak dinner and were presented with shirts (Alice got her own--see the photo), a Bible signed by all of the Samaritans, and a GPS unit. The Samaritans had purchased everything on the nature center wish list short of an owl mascot costume for us, plus made a significant cash donation. Wow!

Things got a lot quieter after the Samaritans left. The nature center building returned to normal, and by now there was only one FEMA inspector left...Scott. As his work load slowed down we were able to chat more, and Alice got quite comfortable around him. Check out the photo of the two of them hanging out together after work one day.

Yesterday Scott headed back to Maine and it felt really weird to drive into work only to find a completely empty parking lot. I did, however, find the donations Scott left for my Great Horned Owl vocal study research and money towards an owl mascot costume. Today Judy, a FEMA inspector from Michigan staying in La Crosse, stopped in to transmit some work. Whew, at least I'm not completely alone again yet!

What a wild ride....

Visit to find photos and more information about the flooding.

Thanks to all of you who checked in with us to make sure we came through the flooding in one piece. :-)