Her life saved mere moments earlier by a state trooper who pulled her from the car as southwestern Minnesota floodwaters crept ever higher, Julisa Jones and her rescuer stood motionless — her arms wrapped around him — as the paralyzing current surged through and around their legs Monday night along Interstate 90.
“My feet went numb, and my legs were shaking,” said the 21-year-old from Anoka, whose thoughts kept coming back to her 3-year-old daughter. “I didn’t know how much longer I could wait.”
Trooper Brian Beuning, who has a 2-year-old boy at home himself, would have none of it. He assured her everything was going to be OK. “ ‘We’re going to do this,’ ” Jones recalled him saying. “ ‘We’re going to do this for our kids.’ ”
He was right. Nearly 45 minutes later Monday night, two firefighters in water rescue suits arrived and lashed the four of them together. The other end was tied to a semitrailer truck in case the current got the best of any one of them.
Ever so slowly, they all walked to safety through knee-deep water in one of three dramatic rescues in soggy Rock County late Monday evening and early Tuesday.
The harrowing episode was among many challenges Minnesotans faced from the bottom of the state to the top in the wake of a mid-June deluge.
Heavy late-night rain Tuesday caused moderate flooding in the Mankato area, closing some roads. A mudslide closed Hwy. 66 between Blue Earth County Road 35 and just south of Hwy. 169. MnDOT reported that northbound 169 between St. Peter and Mankato also was closed due to flooding.
With more rain expected later in the week, officials fear more flooding in the future.
Gov. Mark Dayton made a quick up-and-back Tuesday to International Falls, where officials in Koochiching County briefed him on their plight. Volunteers have already placed tens of thousands of sandbags along Rainy River and Rainy Lake.
Dayton toured some of the flooded areas, and greeted Red Cross volunteers and young people filling sandbags.
‘It was like a river’
On Monday night, Jones was heading back to the Twin Cities after visiting her sister, Samantha Sommers, in Sioux Falls, S.D. Jones was about to move to Florida next week and wanted to see Samantha once more before there were more miles between them.
Within 20 minutes of departing and barely 3 miles into Minnesota, “all of a sudden, this stream, it was like a river swept my car away,” Jones said. “I tried to reverse out of it.”
Jones countered the current with the brake. But every time she eased off the pedal, the flow again took over. She kept her aching leg firmly in place, and “for about a half-hour I could see the police lights getting closer and closer, but the stream was so strong, it took a while for him to actually get there.”
The fit and trim 33-year-old trooper left his squad car and “just walked out,” she said. “I don’t know how he did it, the stream was so strong. It’s amazing how he came to my rescue.”
Beuning told Jones to pull the emergency brake, then he helped her through the driver’s side window and into his arms. They stood there in the middle of the interstate and watched as “the car started rolling into the ditch.”
Once the firefighters did their part and they all marched in baby steps to safety, “I just broke down and started crying,” Jones said.
Within hours she had taken to Twitter and wrote: “All I could think about was my daughter growing up without me.”
Man saved twice same night
Luverne Fire Chief David Van Batavia said the three rescue missions in Rock County saved two women and two men.
One of the men, a farmer, had to be saved twice — once from a tree and later from a nearly submerged tractor.
About 5:30 p.m. Monday, the farmer and his son were checking on cattle and escaped up a tree to stay above an expanse of water hundreds of yards wide northwest of Kenneth, the chief said.
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) came with a high-powered boat, at times “drifting sideways through the current until it bellied up to the tree,” and brought the two to safety, Van Batavia said.
The high-water hat trick was completed after dark Monday, barely one-10th of a mile from the tree escapade, and it was “the same guy we picked out of the tree,” the chief said.
This time he drove his tractor off the road, and it was standing upright in water up over the front hood. Along for the ride was his wife.
The Edgerton Fire Department joined Luverne’s crew and shined lights on the tractor while plotting the next move. The husband and wife “were both sitting there, just fine,” said Van Batavia, so the chief left it to Edgerton personnel to wait until conditions were safe enough to rescue the couple about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Van Batavia said he and his crew defied their own common sense about driving in deep water to help with the final rescue.
“When we went out, we drove through water we shouldn’t have,” he said. “We easily could have been swept off the road.”
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482