More than 40 people had to be rescued when an ice jam broke loose on the Sauk River in central Minnesota, triggering a torrent of water that trapped diners in a Waite Park restaurant.
The ice jam broke about 7 p.m. Saturday, and the restaurant was full of fast-moving and frigid water within 30 minutes, said Patty Gaetz, whose husband, David, is a co-owner of Anton's, which overlooks the river.
"It happened really fast," Patty Gaetz said Sunday. "It really was devastating."
Diners rushed out, leaving drinks that were still sitting on the bar Sunday morning.
Emergency responders, led by the Waite Park Fire Department, escorted or carried 44 diners into raft-like boats.
The rescues and speed in which the area flooded come amid concerns of wider flooding in Minnesota as river levels swell from snowmelt farther north. River towns across the region have been shoring up their flood defenses with levees and walls.
Major or moderate flooding is expected in about two dozen locations, mostly along the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers, according to a National Weather Service (NWS) map.
Every major location where the NWS measures water levels "for some not-so-big and big cities, it looks like flooding impacts are going to be likely" over the next week, said Tyler Hasenstein, a National Weather Service meteorologist. "It's just depending on how prepared these locations are."
The restaurant — which seats about 400 people — was close to full, with a retirement party underway in a private room upstairs when the river began rising, said Gaetz.
The property sits in a flood plain and has experienced floods in 1997, 2001 and 2009. But Saturday night was unusual, she said.
"This was incredible," she said, saying the restaurant was covered in a foot of water, the parking lot 2 feet. "We've never seen anything like this. … For some people, it was just a little overwhelming."
Candice Kottom was at the retirement party upstairs when the flooding occurred.
"It was scary and something I'd never seen before," she wrote on Facebook. "However, the staff remained calm."
She took her food to go, she said, and "won't let this experience keep me away in the future."
Elaine Henkemeyer said it was difficult to get out of the restaurant. "We were soaked above our knees," she said. "The current was unbelievable."
As quickly as it had come, the water receded. It was gone by 9:30 p.m. Saturday.
When the family arrived Sunday morning to begin cleaning up, the floor was dry, Gaetz said.
Her family will hurry to get the carpet replaced and to power-wash the walls, floor, kitchen and coolers.
The insurance company assessors and the health department will be in this week, and the goal is to have at least one dining room reopened by the weekend.
The building does not appear to have structural damage, she said.
The restaurant, opened by her father-in-law Anton Gaetz in 1973, employs 50 people, Gaetz said. "This is our livelihood," she said. "This is what we do."
Several commenters on the restaurant's Facebook page suggested that the flood-prone restaurant should relocate.
"[Flooding] has happened multiple times over the years," wrote Jory Meyer. "Obviously it isn't the best place for a restaurant or a building of any kind unless it is built up."
But Gaetz said the restaurant, part of which is a log cabin built in the 1920s, is historic.
Relocating has crossed the family's mind, but it's not likely to happen. "Part of what makes Anton's is our location," she said. "We wouldn't be the same if we were in a strip mall."