House ripped from its footings takes trio on roof for a wet, terrifying trip

  • Article by: ALLIE SHAH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 20, 2007 - 12:33 AM

WINONA, MINN. - Sunday night found Roger and Bonnie Oldham resting on the edge of their hotel bed in Winona, still in disbelief over what had happened on the wild flood-propelled ride they took in their Stockton, Minn., neighborhood.

WINONA, MINN. - Sunday night found Roger and Bonnie Oldham resting on the edge of their hotel bed in Winona, still in disbelief over what had happened on the wild flood-propelled ride they took in their Stockton, Minn., neighborhood.

About 11:20 p.m. Saturday, Bonnie Oldham, 52, heard the phone ring. It was her daughter, calling to tell them that Stockton was being evacuated because of flooding and urging them to leave.

But it was already too late. The water was too high.

It happened so fast, Roger Oldham said, the water pouring into the ranch-style house until finally, the couple and Bonnie's mom, Audrey Ellinghuisten, 72, decided to get out by the only way left: the roof.

They pulled the patio table out and used it to get Bonnie on top of the house. The table broke when Roger, 65, climbed on it, so he and Ellinghuisten used a desk to get to the roof.

They were away from the floodwaters, cold and soaking wet. So Bonnie climbed back into the house and grabbed Roger's heart medicine and some quilts.

As soon as she reached the top, she said, "The whole city went dark."

The trio huddled on the roof, waiting. Then suddenly -- crack! -- they heard a loud noise that sounded like a tree had split.

"Oh, my God, it's the house!" Roger screamed. The house had broken loose from its foundation and was being carried by the current. "It was like going 80 miles per hour, but it was such a smooth ride," Bonnie said.

The house was carried by the rushing water, flattening a pine tree in its path. "It knocked it down like nobody's business," Bonnie said. She was screaming to other people standing on their rooftops, telling them to call 911.

"It was bad. It was bad," Bonnie said, solemnly.

The ride wasn't over yet. The runaway house then hit the corner of a neighbor's garage and went over an embankment, finally stopping when it got hooked onto a nearby railroad track. The Oldhams say had it not stopped there, they surely would have died. The house was heading straight for dense woods, about 50 feet away.

They screamed for help for more than five hours, the house lodged on the railroad tracks, but Bonnie Oldham said because it was so dark and the storm was so loud, no one could find them.

Finally in the early morning, around 5 a.m., she said a firefighter spotted them and a boat came to their rescue. All three were taken to Winona Community Hospital, where Roger Oldham said they warmed up, but were released with just a few scratches.

Later, they stopped at a shelter for flood victims set up at St. Mary's University in Winona, before heading to the a hotel for a good night's sleep. At last.

I still can't believe it all," Ellinghuisten, shaking her head.

Allie Shah 612-518-3363

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