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Abandon houseboat? Ice and rising water threaten Latsch Island lifestyle

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John Rupkey stands in front of his houseboat.
John Rupkey stands in front of his houseboat on Latsch Island near Winona, Minn., on Thursday, March 14, 2019.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Some residents of Winona's Latsch Island houseboat community in southeast Minnesota might have to abandon ship. River ice, snowpack and rising waters are threatening to overwhelm some of the houseboats, which residents prefer to call "boathouses."

The Mississippi River is predicted to reach a minor flood stage by Wednesday, and some houseboat dwellers are working to keep from getting swamped. This winter's deep freezes and heavy snow have trapped some of the homes in feet of ice.

John Rupkey's home has floated next to the island for 41 years. With water coming over his deck and 14 inches of ice beneath him, he's worried this year could be his last.

"I've never seen anything like this. This is way beyond what I've ever seen. I'm preparing to abandon ship if I have to, if the river starts to come into my house."

Chainsaws, ice augers and heaters are a few of the tools people are using to try to free their homes from the ice. Boathouse Association president Richie Swanson's house is still stuck.

MPR News photographer Evan Frost went to see how residents are trying to stay afloat.