Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

Flooding leaves only one road in and out of Henderson

The southern Minnesota town of Henderson is holding an emergency city council meeting Monday night after flooding from the Minnesota River is causing the town to quickly become surrounded by water.

Henderson is down to just one road to get in and out of town. Joining MPR News host Cathy Wurzer was Henderson Mayor Keith Swenson.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: Well, the southern Minnesota town of Henderson, meanwhile, is holding an emergency city council meeting tonight after flooding from the Minnesota river is causing the town to quickly become surrounded by water. Henderson is down to just one road to get in and out of town. Joining us right now at the latest in his town is Henderson mayor, Keith Swenson. Thanks for taking the time, mayor.

KEITH SWENSON: Not a problem.

CATHY WURZER: Sounds like some of your friends.

KEITH SWENSON: What can I tell you.

CATHY WURZER: Boy, you're kind of in a pickle here. Sounds like some of your friends around Mankato are having a bad day today, too. How are things in Henderson?

KEITH SWENSON: You really hardly ever notice what's going on in Henderson. We have a permanent levee around the town. We have built in pumps. We have floodgates that we close up. And basically, we monitor the system. We are so used to this. This happens to us a minimum of once a year, if not several times a year. The surge on the Minnesota River floods us. The surge on the Rush River south of town floods out highway 93.

When the flooding does occur, county road 6 to the north, highway 93 to the south, and highway 19 to the east all go underwater, and with great regularity. However, 93 and 6, because of state funding, are currently being under construction, being raised up six feet, seven feet, eight feet to stay above the flood waters.

But those projects will take about two years to complete. So at the end of that, but they'd be underwater anyway. So we just kind get used to it and we deal. It's a hardship for our residents because their commutes become, 30, 40 minutes longer to go towards Mankato or towards the Cities.

CATHY WURZER: So the emergency city council meeting--

KEITH SWENSON: --were indomitable.

CATHY WURZER: Yeah. So this emergency city council meeting--

KEITH SWENSON: --oh, city council meeting.

CATHY WURZER: Yeah. What's happening with that?

KEITH SWENSON: OK. Well, on Friday, I declared an emergency because that makes us eligible for a disaster funds if they become available. And literally, this is just a meeting to certify my declaration. So there's really no emergency we're going to discuss. Well, it's always an emergency. We can't let our guard down.

We have to follow the protocols to maintain our flood control system. But it really has nothing to do with telling people that they're in terrible danger. They're not. Henderson is safe. And Sauerkraut Days is this weekend, and we will continue to have Sauerkraut Days.

CATHY WURZER: I saw that note, and I kind of laughed a little bit. Come hell or high water, you're having Sauerkraut days, Which is this weekend.

KEITH SWENSON: I wanted I wanted to paraphrase with the Braveheart speech. They can take our roads, but they can't take our Sauerkraut Days.

CATHY WURZER: However, how will people get to Henderson to celebrate Sauerkraut Days. I mean, you have the one road. Is that going to be enough?

KEITH SWENSON: Highway 19 to the west, it'll work. It'll get you here.

CATHY WURZER: OK. So tell me about residents. Are they sandbagging or is it just, as you say.

KEITH SWENSON: When we put the gates in on the highways, those are the spaces in the dike. When the levee was built, spaces were left for highway 19 entering town from the east and highway 93 from the south. When those flood gates are assembled, there's some sandbags, sandbagging that's done there. But literally, we have a certified levee.

It's a permanent levee designed and built by the army corps of engineers. And it's built to 744 feet above sea level. The record flood is 740.1 feet above sea level. And the current projection is for this flood to be 740.5 above sea level. So it's only 4/10 of an inch higher than the record flood. And that's still far less than 744. There's built in redundancies.

CATHY WURZER: OK. Sounds like you are fairly far away from Mankato. So anything that's happening in that general area with the Rapidan Dam is not going to really affect you.

KEITH SWENSON: Eventually, we'll see the surge of water from it. But by that time-- and quite frankly, they raised the projection in the last few hours by 4/10 of an inch from this morning. So yeah, and I'm pretty sure that's taking that into account, although it could go higher depending-- I think they're trying to get a handle on what that dam problem, really, how that will impact the crest of the flood. Like Mankato, Mankato is very calm right now because they know they've got their system in place. Biggest thing is to deal with water inside the city. And that's what Mankato had to do last weekend.

CATHY WURZER: Right, exactly. Now, final question here. I mean, you've been around for a while and you've seen some pretty decent floods. How does this one stack up, especially since it's kind of-- it's not a spring flood. Now we're talking about a summertime flood.

KEITH SWENSON: Well, and we've had them every time of the year except in the dead of winter. I guess we've never had one. But I was 15 years old in 1965 when the devastating flood occurred. So I've seen them all. And this one, we can't get overconfident, but we're very confident that our system will function and our town is safe.

CATHY WURZER: All right. We wish you well, mayor, and happy Sauerkraut Days this weekend.

KEITH SWENSON: Yeah. Come down and join the contest. We'll give you 2 and 1/2 pounds of sauerkraut for free.

CATHY WURZER: I try to eat it all at the same time. All right, mayor.

KEITH SWENSON: That's the contest.

CATHY WURZER: I appreciate it. Thank you. Best of luck.

KEITH SWENSON: All righty. Thank you.

CATHY WURZER: We've been talking to the mayor of Henderson, Minnesota, Keith Swenson.

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