Mahnomen battles river
MAHNOMEN, Minn. -- Residents here battled the rising Wild Rice River Sunday and prayed for a break from the rain. Another 3 to 7 inches of rain fell across the already soaked Norman and Mahnomen counties between Saturday afternoon and early Sunda...
MAHNOMEN, Minn. -- Residents here battled the rising Wild Rice River Sunday and prayed for a break from the rain.
Another 3 to 7 inches of rain fell across the already soaked Norman and Mahnomen counties between Saturday afternoon and early Sunday morning, sending the river surging out of its banks and cutting new channels through homes unlucky enough to be in its path.
"On top of the rain we had, there's no place for it to go," said Brad Athmann, a Mahnomen County sheriff's deputy who was helping coordinate efforts to save the homes of Brent Amundson and his neighbors. "I don't think I've seen anything like it."
The river already claimed two homes between Amundson's house and the river, and volunteers sandbagged frantically Sunday afternoon to keep the rushing river at bay.
Athmann said that if the rainfall predicted for Sunday night stayed under an inch, and the golf course road continued to hold back water, the sandbaggers had a chance.
"If not, we'll have water 4 more feet high up here," he said.
As a precaution, Amundson and his neighbors began moving possessions from the basements to the main floor of their homes.
For many of the volunteers, this was the third or fourth neighborhood they'd thrown their efforts into saving. The 100 to 150 volunteers included people from area towns such as Detroit Lakes and Bejou.
A couple from Wisconsin passing through the area also pitched in for about four hours.
"They said they heard about it on the radio," Athmann said.
A few blocks away and around a bend in the river, neighbors Eunice Bellanger and Ervin Voit watched the river in disbelief.
"Do you want to buy some lake front property?" Bellanger asked.
She said in the 30 years she has lived next to the Wild Rice, this was the first time she's had rainwater flood into her basement.
"We just mopped and hauled buckets of water out here until 3:30 in the morning," she said.
"The ground is so saturated and it came so fast, there's no place for it to go," she said.
Voit said a storm passed through about noon Saturday, dumping 1½ inches of rain. The rain started up again about 7 p.m.
"It rained pretty near all night," he said. When the rain quit, he had 6.7 inches in his rain gauge.
Farther upstream, Bev and Stan Gunderson, with help from friends, neighbors and family members, carried furniture and other possessions from their house as water lapped at the front porch. They hauled some of the items to higher ground with a boat. Other helpers waded through waist-high water, holding a small cabinet or plastic stand over their heads.
"They won't let anybody under 5-foot-6 in the water," said the Gundersons' daughter-in-law, Tonya Gunderson of Bejou.
She said her in-laws' yard sometimes floods after a heavy rain, but the water disappears after an hour or two.
"I've never seen the water so high," she said.
School officials opened the high school as an emergency shelter for residents in this city of about 1,200 who needed a place to stay.
Getting in and out of Mahnomen was tricky Sunday. The Minnesota Department of Transportation closed state Highway 200 both east and west of the city and U.S. Highway 59 between Mahnomen and Bejou because of water over the roads. Water also flowed over Highway 59 to the south between Mahnomen and Waubun, but one lane of the road still was useable.
Authorities advised no travel in Mahnomen or Norman counties.
About 30 miles to the west in Ada, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Minnesota National Guard worked to shore up a permanent levy on the city's south side.
Gov. Jesse Ventura called 71 National Guard members to active duty Sunday to help deal with flooding in the two counties.
Some of Ada's 1,800 residents left town Sunday, but officials had not ordered an evacuation, according to Kevin Ruud, Norman County's emergency director.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Ellen Crawford at (701) 241-5523