Cleanup begins in flooded town

Ice
Floodwaters dumped large chunks of ice in this Browns Valley neighborhood.
MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson

Several inches of water flowed over highways leading to Browns Valley, and several feet of icy water quickly inundated the north side of this community of 650.

Mayor Jeff Backer Jr., was on a call with the volunteer ambulance crew when the water started to rise. He immediately began planning to sandbag State Highway 27 to keep water out of town.

Flooded car
Some parts of Browns Valley were under five feet of water as ice jams caused the Little Minnesota River to burst its banks.
MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson

"We were thinking about sandbagging 27 but by the time we got out there it was already a thousand feet wide coming across 27. It just came so quick. It wasn't because anybody was twiddling their thumbs," he said.

Browns Valley hasn't seen a serious flood since the 1960s, and this one caught most residents by surprise.

Ron and Liz Goodsell stood on the street trying to decide if they should wade through three feet of water to check on their home.

" I don't know, we need some stuff out of there," said Liz Goodsell. She was shocked when she saw the water rising late Tuesday night.

Rescue loader
A front-end loader being used for cleanup in Browns Valley.
MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson

"I said, 'Look at that water over there.' And we just kept watching it and it kept coming closer and closer and by 2:30 it was in our front yard just like that. It just came. And I just bought new furniture yesterday. I don't know if it got in there. I want to go in there. "

A few blocks away Minnesota DNR conservation officer Tony Anderson was pulling a boat out of the floodwater.

"We're assisting the local residents with getting some belongings out of their homes, necessary items like money and clothing and things they need, and turning off gas to the homes in the area so we don't have a gas leak or explosion," Anderson said.

Clean-up begins
Browns Valley residents are in for a big cleanup following the flood. Officials evacuated around 100 people when the Little Minnesota River broke its banks.
MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson

Many residents took boats to check on their homes. Mayor Backer suggested people wait until the water receded, but he understood if they couldn't wait. His home is flooded too.

"We live in a small community," Backer said. "We're not going to stop Edith from going to her home if she wants to go to her home. If your home is flooding you want to do the best you can to save your personal property. We're not going to say ah, forget about you. We understand because we're in the same position."

About 100 people were forced out of their homes by the floodwater. Many stayed with friends or family. Some sought shelter at the local school. Most residents do not have flood insurance.

Mayor Jeff Backer
Browns Valley Mayor Jeff Backer wants the state to declare his city a disaster area.
MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson

Mayor Backer says he will seek federal and state disaster assistance. He says Browns Valley is a poor small town with few resources.

"We're referring to this flood as our little Katrina," he said."For us this is huge. We've done wonderful but with cleanup that's where we're going to need help."

The mayor says the community pulled together to fight the floodwater, but the small town will need help cleaning up the mess left behind when the water recedes.

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