Floods pummel Goodhue County
ZUMBROTA - Clad in a yellow rain jacket and rubber boots, Dennis Sprenger of Zumbrota stood out in the rain Thursday and watched as the banks of the Zumbro River rose over his garden, then his fire pit, and on toward his home.
The river that typically sits 120 feet from the two-story house was now just steps away.
"And it keeps raining," he said.
Rain showers that began Wednesday night in southern Minnesota continued through the day Thursday. Flash floods closed roads and damaged buildings throughout the region.
On Friday, people were struggling to clean up the mess left behind, as floodwaters persisted in low-lying areas.
Some of the hardest hit areas included Pine Island, where flooding reportedly damaged more than 20 homes, and Zumbrota, where 7.75 inches of rain prompted residents to fill sandbags and place them in front of vulnerable homes and businesses.
Zumbrota City Administrator Neil Jensen said residents were expecting the worst Thursday morning. Computer models projected the Zumbro River to crest at 28 feet - a record-shattering level that "would have been a disaster," he said.
The river ultimately crested at 22.8 feet and stayed there, but not before residents who expected more substantial flooding scrambled to protect their homes and businesses.
At the Cemstone concrete plant in Zumbrota on Thursday, students from Kevin Nelson's Construction Occupations class were rapidly filling sandbags as rain poured down on them.
They loaded the bags onto pickup trucks in an improvised assembly line. Some of the young people were covered in mud and sand.
"We grabbed the ones who would be willing to get dirty and come on down," said Nelson, who teaches at Zumbrota-Mazeppa High School.
Workers hauled the bags off and placed them near threatened homes and businesses, including an area bank, the Hub Food Center and the city's sewage treatment plant.
Police were called away from efforts to control the flood late Thursday afternoon, after a Red Wing man was shot around 4:30 p.m. outside Casey's General Store in Zumbrota.
Zumbrota police arrested two suspects, Ernest Thomas, 31, of Chicago, and Nathan Triplett, 28, nearly an hour later at 5:23 p.m.
The victim, Willie Wayne Ricks, Jr., 30, of Red Wing, was airlifted to a Twin Cities area hospital. Goodhue County deputies reported Friday that he was listed in critical condition.
At the time of the shooting, the Highway 58 bridge and several thoroughfares were closed or under water, and residents were still placing sandbags around homes.
Flood control efforts continued on pace, despite the temporary lack of police presence, Jensen said.
"We pretty much had things in place by then," he said.
By Friday, floodwaters had begun to subside in Zumbrota and elsewhere in the region. Minnesota Department of Transportation officials reopened the Highway 58 bridge north of the city by mid-morning.
Pine Island shut down
In Pine Island, some roads to the city reopened Friday morning. The Goodhue County Sheriff's Office had effectively closed the entire city to outside traffic Thursday afternoon.
Police established checkpoints at the city limits to check the identification of motorists heading into town. Non-residents found in the city limits were subject to arrest.
Goodhue County Sheriff Dean Albers said aid workers "could not deal with all the people coming into down," prompting the closure.
On Friday, Goodhue County deputies assisted in the rescue of Xcel Energy employees who had become stranded while working on an electrical substation near Pine Island, Albers said. Deputies reportedly used an airboat to carry the workers to safety.
New Red Wing crest
As conditions improved Friday in Zumbrota and Pine Island, they worsened in Cannon Falls. City police reported Friday evening that the Cannon River had risen more than 4 feet since Thursday afternoon.
At 5:30 p.m., police and city residents were placing sandbags to stop the rising river, according to a Cannon Falls police news release.
In Red Wing, the National Weather Service predicted that the Mississippi River would crest within a foot of flood levels by next Thursday or Friday.
Red Wing public works reported Friday that workers were placing barricades at riverside parks and threatened streets within the city limits.