2 towns, 2 levees, 2 scenes

  • Article by: MATT MCKINNEY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 21, 2007 - 12:42 AM

A levee rebuilt in 1999 helped spare Houston, while floodwaters devastated nearby Rushford.

CALEDONIA, MINN. - The towns of Houston, and Rushford lie in the same valley just a few miles apart, but on Monday it became apparent that it may as well have been two different floods that hit those cities.

The levee in Houston, with a population of about 1,000, held back the floodwaters; Rushford's was overwhelmed.

Those who came home to Houston after an evacuation order was lifted Monday morning found the city soggy, but not broken. Basements were wet. The fire department was pumping out a section of the school. It was nearly normal.

A few miles away in Rushford, population 1,700, the flood brought devastation. Cars were submerged in mud or abandoned in the middle of streets. Homes were lined with a ring of dirt high off the ground where floodwaters peaked. Basement walls caved in.

The water rose more than 10 feet in some places, according to several people.

Cleanup crews arrived Monday as the waters receded, filling the town with National Guard troops and assorted heavy equipment. A massive pump shot a stream of water high into the air, over the levee and back into the river.

The town was mostly empty of residents on Monday afternoon, although a few were escorted to their homes by officials for brief visits.

Rushford's levee didn't break, but water washed over its top, said Jack O'Donnell, chief deputy in the Fillmore County Sheriff's Office.

One house in town burned to the water line when a gas tank or natural gas line broke and ignited. Standing water on the town's main street flooded the bank, the supermarket, a law office and other buildings.

As the mayhem unfolded in Rushford, firefighters in Houston watched anxiously as the Root River rose against the banks of the levee that encircles three sides of town. The levee, rebuilt in 1999, was designed to hold back 20 feet of water.

The waters crested Sunday afternoon at 19.3 feet.

Mayor Connie Edwards said the levee was rebuilt eight years ago by officials who feared a 100-year-flood would burst through the one that had been there for decades.

Without it?

"We would have been like Rushford," she said. "We would have been wiped out if that dike gave out."

Matt McKinney • 612-673-7329

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