Joel and Karyl Hoeger returned home from a trip to Bemidji in 1 a.m. darkness last Saturday, hours after Friday evening’s potent storm had passed. Their kids Jack, 17, and Abbie, 22, were asleep in their beds. All seemed calm.
It wasn’t until the light of day that the Hoegers of New Brighton learned the full story of what transpired at their address while they were away.
“The neighborhood bonded without us,” Karyl said with a smile. “I kind of feel bad that I missed it.”
Bonding came without a barbecue. This block party was all about buckets and flashlights, sump pumps and generators, extension cords and towels, and spontaneous acts of selflessness. Lots of them.
It was, Joel said, “an incredible feat by our neighbors.”
The Hoegers have lived on this tidy block in New Brighton for 16 years, but, like so many of us, know most of their neighbors by waves and small talk. “You don’t have their phone numbers,” Karyl said. She will soon.
Around 8 p.m. Friday, Jack texted his mom: “We have no power. Where is a flashlight?” One flashlight, then another, had dead batteries (a lesson to all of us), but he finally found one that worked. Jack headed down to the family’s finished basement to make sure everything was OK, “since it was torrential pouring.”
Water was starting to come in, so Jack called his parents to let them know, then abruptly hung up with an “I gotta go!”
At this point, Karyl and Joel, who had been visiting Karyl’s 91-year-old mother Up North, threw their bags together and jumped into their car for the five-hour drive home. Joel’s phone was dead so they relied on Karyl’s, which had only a little power left. It was just enough to call next-door neighbors Julie and Mark Burgoyne, and ask if they could bring a couple of towels over to keep water out of the window wells. (Everybody’s laughing about that now.)
“Just drive home safely,” Mark told them. “We’ll take care of it.”
Then Karyl’s phone died, too.
Julie headed next door and saw that things were much worse. “Hey!” she called out into the street. “We need help! The Hoegers’ basement is flooding!”
Help arrived quickly. “First, it was small groups — then, like, 20 people in our house, which is just crazy,” said Abbie. “People I’d never seen before. We were overwhelmed, but we weren’t totally surprised.”
Tim French and his 21-year-old daughter, Caitlin, were among the first to arrive. They live across the street but had never officially met Joel, a financial manager for a nonprofit, or Karyl, a paraprofessional in the Mounds View School District. So the Hoegers didn’t yet know how lucky they are that French is retired from Xcel Energy, where he worked as a lineman.
Dawn and Bill Beling, and their daughter, Angela, who live five doors down, and Georgia and Roy Wilcox, who live across the street, three houses down, also headed over.
Meanwhile, Mark Burgoyne knocked on doors until he found two generators. Neighbors carried a heavy picnic table over the Hoegers’ back-yard fence into the front yard and placed the heavy generators on top of it to keep the fumes from going inside. Mark then went downstairs and, sloshing through a foot of water in the dark, found the home’s sump pump. He and French used an extension cord connected to a generator to get it going.
The Burgoyne’s sons, Michael and Alec, pitched in, too. “Jack said he needed help,” said Michael, 16. “We brought buckets over and just started dumping water.”
Dawn Beling credits the many teens in the neighborhood for their efforts. “They got the word out on Facebook, and by text, tweet or whatever. The kids find out.”
The Hoegers’ eldest daughter, Jessie, 24, arrived from her home in Roseville to help make decisions about where everything should be moved. Several volunteers formed a chain to haul items from downstairs. Soon the garage and upstairs family room were filling up with skis and boots, bikes, an artificial Christmas tree, luggage and more.
Georgia Wilcox carried up Jack’s drum set, “each piece half-full of splashing water,” she said. “It was crazy.”
Crazy, too, was the sight outside the house as darkness fell. An unwitting driver lost control of his car and floated down the street into a neighbor’s yard. Branches rushed down the street-turned-river.
But by midnight, everything was under control again. Bill Beling and Tim French were the last to leave. They left instructions for Jack and Abbie and topped off both generators before heading home.
Acts of kindness continued throughout the weekend, with meals brought over, and offers to use neighbors’ showers and washing machines.
“When our back yard dries out,” Karyl said, shaking her head in wonder and gratitude, “I want to have a thank-you barbecue.”