Flood survivor: 'I don't think we're going to make it'

(AP) Roger Oldham thought the safest place he could go with his wife and mother-in-law to avoid the rising flood waters here was the roof of their one-story house. He was right - though the three weren't prepared for what followed.

Just minutes after they escaped Saturday night, violent flood waters from an adjacent drainage ditch blew out their basement wall, ripping the house from its foundation and sending Oldham and the others on a harrowing ride through town.

Holding on for their lives, Oldham and his wife, Bonnie, and her mother screamed for help as the house floated about 1,000 feet through the yards of their neighbors, many of whom were also stranded in the dark.

"They were on the roof screaming and there was nothing you could do," said neighbor Sean Wehlage, 29, who was on his roof with his girlfriend and saw the Oldham house float by. He heard them screaming "bloody murder," but once they passed a towering pine tree he couldn't hear their cries and assumed the worst.

The Oldhams were hanging on and praying the house stayed upright.

"You just hope and pray you don't hit something and tip over," Roger Oldham said Sunday, standing in his driveway looking into the hole where his house once stood. Filled with muddy rain and flood water, it looked more like a dirty swimming hole than the foundation for the house he lived in since 1975.

Oldham, 65, didn't even know there was the threat of a flood until he got a call from his sister who had heard Stockton was being evacuated. Then he looked out the window and saw the water rushing down the street and out the drainage ditch that runs alongside his house.

About 30 minutes later he decided to head for the roof. "I figured we better get the hell out," he said. "It's a good thing we did."

Bonnie Oldham and her 72-year-old mother used a glass patio table to get on the roof. But after that broke, Roger Oldham got a desk from inside the house and turned it on its side to climb up.

Bonnie Oldham grabbed some blankets to protect them from the storm, but she left their cats behind. She wanted to go back down to get them, but Roger wouldn't let her. The next afternoon she was walking barefoot, her feet caked in mud, trying to find them in their adjacent garage.

When they were on the roof, Bonnie Oldham recalled hearing what she described as a "big explosion." Looking at the pit where her house used to stand, she guessed Sunday that what she heard was the water blowing out the west wall of her cinder block basement.

"We thought it was the tree cracking," she said. "Then Roger says, 'Look out, here we go."

The house, and the Oldhams, were on their way.

"He said, 'I don't think we're going to make it," Bonnie Oldham recalled.

The storms that socked Stockton and the entire southeastern Minnesota and southwestern Wisconsin region were blamed for the deaths of at least four people, including two who were killed in their vehicle near Stockton and two others who died in another vehicle near Witoka.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty was taken to see the Oldham house sitting on the train tracks during a tour of Stockton on Sunday. He had to cut the visit short due to the smell of gas from propane tanks resting on the tracks.

The Oldhams' neighbor who saw the house floating said it was a miracle they survived. Not only were they getting carried away by the flood waters, Wehlage said he could also hear propane tanks hissing in the dark night, made even more frightening by the loss of power in the town.

"I cannot describe the terror of it all," he said. "I'm just glad to be alive."

The Oldham house slammed into railroad tracks where it came to a stop, perpendicular to the rail lines twisted like licorice whips by the storm.

Bonnie Oldham, 52, said it was the already mangled railroad tracks that effectively blocked their house from going any farther. Even though the house stopped on the tracks, the night was just beginning for the Oldhams.

They screamed for help for more than five hours, the house lodged on the railroad tracks, but Bonnie Oldham said because it was so dark and the storm was so loud, no one could find them. And besides, there weren't supposed to be any houses where theirs ended up on the tracks.

Finally in the early morning, around 5 a.m., she said a firefighter spotted them and a boat came to their rescue. All three were taken to Winona Community Hospital, where Roger Oldham said they warmed up, but were released with just a few scratches Sunday.

Now they have to figure out what to do next.

"Everything's gone," Bonnie Oldham said, breaking down into tears as neighbors came to hear the story and offer support.

Roger Oldham, who's lived in Stockton since 1968, knows he's not coming back.

"I ain't gonna build here again," he said. "I think I'll move out of town. Taxes are too high here anyway."

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