Saturday, August 18, started as a typical weekend day in Rushford, but it wouldn’t end like a typical day. In fact, it’s a day that lives on in infamy and will for a long time to come. The Rushford, Minnesota, 2007 flood had begun.
Rain began to fall that evening. It started out as a torrential downpour and it just never let up. It wouldn’t let up for approximately 24 hours. By the early hours of Sunday morning, Rushford had filled up with water and authorities were ordering residents to evacuate. 17 inches of rainfall in a short space of time triggered a flood that saw over five feet of water filling up the Rushford area. The road to recovery would be a long and hard one.
August marked the ten-year anniversary of the flood. While the recovery stories were incredibly challenging, they were also heartwarming as the community rallied together. Ten different people would give ten different answers to the question, “Can you believe it’s been ten years since the flood?” Looking back, all would agree it was a difficult time.
“It almost seems like it’s been longer than that,” said Pam Brand, owner of Pam’s Corner in Rushford. “Sometimes it feels like it hasn’t been that long, but then I look at everything the community’s been through since then and it feels even longer than that.”
Jim Hoiness, co-owner of Rushford Foods, said it feels like ten years have gone by very quickly, calling it ‘amazing.’ It’s especially amazing when he looks back at where the community came from to where it is today. “We’ve been very blessed,” he said.
Saturday, August 18th, was just another weekend day to the Brands, who’d made plans that day for a grill out with friends, but the torrential rains made that impossible. They didn’t hear about the flooding in Rushford until the next morning, partly because they live ten miles outside of town. A phone call from one of their employees was the first clue they had.
“The employee that opened up on Sunday morning called me and said, ‘Rushford is flooding,’” she said. “We thought that meant the streets might be full of water, so we said we’d be there soon. The employee called back and said, ‘you really need to come now,’ telling us that Rushford was flooding and there was water everywhere.”
Coming in from the south side of Rushford, the Brands made it to the bridge before they were stopped by water. A lot of water. They needed to get to the store, so they took off in their car, which almost made it to the store before stalling. They would wade in water the rest of the way to the store.
The Hoiness family was at a family reunion when it started raining. Even when Jim got home, it was still raining, so he decided to head down to Rushford Foods and take a look at the building. When he got to the store, the loading dock was completely full of water. That water was about one foot from getting into the main store. At that point, Jim said there was nothing he could do about it and went home to hunker down. He wouldn’t see the extent of the damage until the next morning.
The Brands were also seeing water getting closer to their business. The family began moving items in their store to the second floor, getting help from customers who happened to be in the store at the time and were virtually trapped there. They also made what would turn out to be a good decision to shut down all the electrical equipment, a decision that would help them get back on their feet a little quicker than they would have. However, they were still left with a mess.
“A muddy, muddy mess,” Brand said. “It took an awful lot of work to clean up a mess like that but we have an awful lot of good people in this community and the surrounding areas. Folks came from all over to help everybody clean up. It was amazing. I never dreamed that anything like that could happen.”
Jim Hoiness faced a similarly monumental task to get the Rushford Foods building cleaned up. He used the word ‘miracle’ to describe the process as 400 volunteers came to his store to help with cleanup.
“I don’t believe we ever asked anyone to come and help,” Hoiness said. “They just showed up. It was the nastiest job you could ever have, to try and clean up through that muck and mud. It’s a tedious job.”
Hoiness said several of the volunteers were community residents, but there were a lot of people that came in from out of town. In fact, a group of confirmation students from an area Catholic church/school called Hoiness to ask if they could come down and help.
“I talked to the teacher when they first came over,” Hoiness remembered, “and she said the students were a little reluctant to come over, at first. The students worked in the Mill Street Mall (which Hoiness also owns) and helped clean it up. After that, the teacher called back and said the students wanted to return over a couple of Saturdays and finish the job.”
Hoiness said that’s what sticks in his mind the most when he remembers the flood. It’s the people that came to help. It’s not fun to clean up something like that. It’s smelly and dirty. Without that volunteer help, it’s hard to even get a start on a job like that.
“It would be virtually impossible to pay someone for a job that big,” he added. “It would be incredibly expensive.”
Brand said it took a few months before she felt Pam’s Corner was fully back on its feet again. Hoiness said Rushford Foods took a lot of work to get going again as well. Hoiness said they had to remove several feet of interior and exterior walls from the ground up because of water damage. As they got back on their feet, Pam said it was heartwarming to see everyone working together to get Rushford moving again.
“You could see everyone helping each other,” she remembered. “We saw a lot of former community members that had moved away and were coming back to help with cleanup, including former residents that we hadn’t seen in years. Everyone really stuck together to help each other get back on their feet again. It was really quite amazing.”
Hoiness said it was ‘miraculous’ that Rushford Foods could be back in business in only 71 days. They couldn’t have done it without all the help that showed up. He feels Rushford has come a long way since the epic flood in 2007.
“I think so,” he said. “I think things look very good. A lot of homes and businesses were redone. We’re very fortunate.”
Brand said the year after the flood saw Rushford beginning to take shape again, saying everything looked stronger and new. She said it looked like Rushford had done the right things to get going in the right direction again. Does she still believe that ten years later?
“I believe it is, yes,” she said firmly.
Here’s a YouTube video of the flood and some of the damage that it left behind: