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The battle of Hastings: As Mississippi River floodwaters creep up, neighborhood shifts

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Water fills Fourth Street East in Hastings, Minn.
Water fills Fourth Street East in Hastings, Minn., leaving some residents to find non-traditional routes home on Tuesday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

The Mississippi River rose in Hastings, Minn., Wednesday with floodwaters encroaching on the veterans memorial at Levee Park, threatening the low-lying homes along the river on First Street and on the eastern edge of the city limits, re-routing daily commutes. 

On Monday this week, the end of the blacktop on Fourth Street East between the Mississippi and Vermillion rivers was visible. By Tuesday afternoon, it was submerged under the waters of the Vermillion.

For five Hastings homes, that's the only road in and out. And so, they improvise.

The Likes family and their neighbors use wood chips from the city and Dakota Electric Association to firm up a dirt path through the DNR property that allows them to bypass the flooded street and connect with the road into Hastings.

Tommy Reuter rides the wood chip path through the woods with his dog McCoy.
Tommy Reuter rides the wood-chip path through the woods with his dog McCoy away from his home in Hastings, Minn., on Tuesday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

It's a winding, quarter-mile improvisation on an easement the Likes got years ago from the previous property owners. Starting this week, they have to use it. 

"This is going to the rodeo, this is going to stay," homeowner Peter Likes said. His son, Cory, said the family will likely be relying on the wood-chip road for the next two to four weeks — adding that a big rain or northern snowmelt could prolong that. The water isn't leaving anytime soon.

"This isn't 'flush the toilet it's gone.' ... That's just the way it's gonna stay," Peter Likes said. "But you get up and you live with it. You might have to put on galoshes instead of loafers."

Neighbors are already adjusting their routines. Every morning, someone drives their truck or ATV down the wood-chip path to drop off or pick kids up from the temporary bus stop at the end of it. Cory Likes said they also cut down on deliveries.

"Let's just say, the pizza delivery guy? You don't see him anymore, [or] the deliveries from UPS, FedEx. But the mail lady still went through there today," he said. 

Two children ride their bicycles around their secluded neighborhood.
Two children ride their bicycles around their secluded neighborhood while longtime resident Peter Likes drives an ATV around in Hastings, Minn., on Tuesday. Likes' in-laws acquired the property more than 90 years ago.
Evan Frost | MPR News

The wood-chip path can be an adventure — or a bit of an inconvenience. But Peter Likes remembers that it was worse, years ago, when the road and the bridge out of their neighborhood were built at much lower heights.

"In about 1979, they had high water before they put the bridge in. My wife and I, we came home from the boat harbor up here, we came home by boat, coming down this back channel, crossing over the water down there," he said. "Then we'd pull up the boat in the cornfield, every night for about three weeks. Had to go to work, you know? Up and down. It is what it is. We choose to live here. This is God's green acre down here."

Hastings, Minn.
Hastings, Minn.
William Lager | MPR News

Their property sits high, but there is plenty of water in the surrounding area. The Vermillion River flows through their backyard, and not much farther is the Mississippi. And a little more than a mile away, the St. Croix River joins it. Peter and Cory Likes are carefully monitoring water levels, wondering if rain is coming or when a warm spell in the north will send more water their way. 

The Mississippi River in Hastings is expected to climb another foot and a half to a crest around 19.6 feet this weekend.

In the meantime, Peter Likes, his family and neighbors will keep driving their bumpy road through the woods.

"Whatever it takes to get home right?" he said, laughing, driving up the path on his ATV.