Year in Review: Floods take NI and Southern MN by storm

KIMT News 3- 2016 was another time when human beings were reminded that for all our power, we can be helpless against the awesome forces of nature. Beginning on August 23, severe storms and flooding battered northeast Iowa for several days. A Presidential Disaster Declaration was issued for Floyd, Howard, Mitchell, Allamakee, Chickasaw, Clayton, Fayette and Winneshiek Counties.

One of the worst hit places was Spillville, sending Mayor Mike Klimesh working around the clock to limit the damage.

Mike Klimesh – “We have about 10 houses that have no power or water on the first floor. They won’t be able to move back in today.”
Klimesh said the river crested two feet over the record high set back in 2008.
Mike Klimesh – “Yeah, it’s pretty sad. It’s devastating.”

25 people had to be evacuated from a trailer park in Fort Atkisson and we spoke with a Worth County farmer who saw some of his land wind up three to four feet under water.
Jim Jaspers – “I’m just trying to unhook the fences now so I keep the cattle in the other and on the dryer part of the land.”

High water closed many roads, making travel dangerous.

Ray Huftalin, Mitchell and Worth County Emergency Management Coordinator – “Folks need to be prepared when severe weather hits. You need to have a survival kit in your car, for this winter, and in your basement.”

One man, 77-year-old Albert Gott, was killed in Chickasaw County after his vehicle was swept away by fast-moving water.

And as always, the problems didn’t end when the rain and flooding subsided.
Steve Bremer, owner of Larson’s Hardware Hank store – “We sold a large number of fans. People trying to dry out basements, they have dehumidifiers probably ready and what the fan does is it gets the water into the air so the dehumidifier can get the water out.”

Even worse conditions were in store for North Iowa and southern Minnesota a month later with severe storms that began September 21 produced more flooding.

The Shellrock River surged out of its banks, forcing evacuations in the city of Greene.

Roxanne Schoville – “Terrible, it’s just really depressing. Just I’m so old it’s hard to think of starting over again.”
Marilyn Vouillon – “Waiting for it to come and hoping the Lord is going to take care of us.”

The rising Cheslea Creek in Mason City also made people flee their homes at Autumn Park Apartments.

Brent Trout, City Administrator of Mason City – “In flash floods situations, you have a limited time to react and so the decision was made that it was best we go and do a quick evacuation.”

About 25 people needed the assistance of the Salvation Army.

Tracy Hedegard-Stump, social services director “People are a little anxious because they’re not sure what’s going to happen at home, but they’re now sitting, watching movies. They are doing puzzles, just chatting or listening to the radio in one room. We’re kind of trying to provide a little entertainment, but people are a little nervous, you know, because it’s unknown.”

The waters also rose in Albert Lea.

Kevin Dreyling – “We don’t have a deck anymore, we have a dock.”

Kevin Dreyling says his family had to use a boat to get to their house and that posed its own dangers.

Kevin Dreyling – “It’s scary down there and water comes in and you see ten inch cinder blocks flying across the top of the water.”

In Charles City, police went door-to-door and suggested people pack up and move out to avoid the perils they faced during the 2008 floods.

Hugh Anderson, Charles City police chief – “We ended up forcing our firefighters and rescue personnel to go out in boats and other vehicles to try and get them out, so for their safety and the safety of firefighters and rescue we thought it best we warn these people early.”

And while it wasn’t directly caused by flooding, a mechanical problem at the Charles City wastewater treatment plant required the importation of porta-potties so residents could reduce water use by not flushing their toilets.

Another Presidential Disaster Declaration was issued for 19 Iowa counties, including Cerro Gordo, Floyd, Howard and Mitchell, and southern Minnesota was hoping for the same consideration.

Rich Hall, Freeborn County director of emergency management – “We’re asking for the state of Minnesota to come out and help us and hopefully we can reach our threshold and get some money back for this county and this is mainly for public infrastructures. (September 22)
But though the flooding largely ended in a few days, a disaster declaration for Freeborn and other southern Minnesota counties did not come until November 2. And even then, it did not authorize assistance for individual households. Federal assessors said that not enough damage had been done.

Governor Mark Dayton appealed that decision and by the end of November, the Federal Emergency Management Agency reversed itself and federal help was made available for the $10.1 million in damage done to private property owners.
Iowa Governor Terry Branstad led a tour of flood damage in Charles City a few days after the storms.

Gov. Terry Branstad – “I’m really encouraged by the number of volunteers involved and the local leadership that’s been provided by the communities that are affected and the local emergency management people, because we have National Guard involved as well. This is the first time since 011 that they had a disaster that we felt required a National Guard assistance.”

And some said that the lessons learned from previous floods helped reduce the impact this time.

Larry Young, mayor of Shell Rock – “Well, we continued the FEMA buyout program where instead of having 35 houses that were damaged, we could have had another 20 or 25 that were taken out. So that relieves some tension and we’ve upgraded out lift station as much as we can. That’s an expensive proposition.”

And when things finally did dry out, more hard work had to get underway.
Many flood-damaged items had to be disposed of.

Scott Brattrud, Mason City sanitation – “We want to try and get this picked up as quick as we can It is kind of a biohazard of sorts if it was sewage back up, so we want to get that taken care of soon as possible.

And volunteers turned out to help homeowners facing the daunting task of clean up.
Ann Austin, executive director for United Way of Freeborn County – “We have a lot of residents here who are older and are not able to help themselves clean up basements and don’t have family in town. So they’re really stuck in a situation like this.”

Robert Heuermann, executive director for the Catholic United Financial Foundation – That’s the thing with flooding, it’s not just a one day event. It takes time for water to go down and then people find out what they need, like furnaces and furniture.”

Recovery efforts lasted for weeks and the whole experience changed lives and perspectives.
Audrey Smith, Greene resident – “We just have to be thankful that neither of us lost our lives, neither one of us have a terminal illness. So everything that we lost is just material things that can be replaced.”

Water left its mark on North Iowa and southern Minnesota in 2016, but tomorrow we’ll take a look at how its opposite also seared itself into our memories when KIMT’s Year in Review continues.

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