Forty years ago this June, a record rain flooded WorthingtonWORTHINGTON — Remember 97 years ago? Worthington went with blue skies and not a drop of precipitation for a month, from Oct. 12 to Nov. 11. Remember how some wondered if there would be frost? There seem not to be many bells ringing.
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Remember 97 years ago? Worthington went with blue skies and not a drop of precipitation for a month, from Oct. 12 to Nov. 11. Remember how some wondered if there would be frost?
There seem not to be many bells ringing.
All right. Remember 40 years ago — June 28, 1969 — when Worthington went down for a count with 6.37 inches of rain on a Saturday night? We are nearing the 40th anniversary. Now I hear bells.
Bob Demuth, Worthington’s longtime mayor, is the city’s only mayor (apparently) who kept thick files of the works and projects undertaken through his years in office. Bob’s is a kind of record Worthington never had. Mayor Demuth’s hope is that the files will be preserved and that many years from now records still will be here for researchers and historians.
For quite awhile, I have had the Mayor’s file for the Flood of ’69. There was a ton of things Worthington had to pursue with engineers, the U.S. Corps of Engineers, the State of Minnesota. It is pretty heavy reading. The thing we remember is the amazing spectacle of that sodden June night.
Through those dark, wet hours police and fire department rescue crews in boats evacuated 27 people from Worthington houses along Johnson Avenue, Clary Street and Omaha Avenue. There is a quote from Mrs. Darrell Bowyer, who was living with her family at 1004 Omaha Ave.:
“When the basement caved in, we knew it was time to leave.”
Bob Cashel wrote the lead story for the next edition of the Daily Globe:
“Before the rain stopped early Sunday morning, hundreds of area basements were flooded, two dozen families were evacuated, railroad cars derailed, automobile engines drowned, electric circuits failed and highways were closed to traffic.” You’d have thought we were living on Mississippi River low ground.
Lake Okabena flooded — this was the doing of the rain, not of the lake. A river with splashing fish flowed along Seventh Avenue and on around 10th Avenue. Water also was overflowing a couple dozen other city streets and gushing into hundreds of basements. Many basements began to collapse. Six cars of a freight train overturned just north of the city after water undercut the C&NW railroad tracks.
The flood seemed to center on Worthington but the deluge spilled over Osceola County, Jackson County and Nobles County. At 11 a.m. the next morning, rescuers were called to assist two REA workers whose boat was overturned by a surge in the Kanaranzi River west of Adrian. The REA men were clinging to a tree.
By 1 a.m.-2 a.m. — there may have been no one in Worthington still in bed. Bob Demuth remembers there was no sleep that night for any officials or emergency workers. Ambulances were sent on runs. Fire trucks were out. All police officers were on duty. State Highway patrolmen. National Guardsmen were lending assistance. In that Cold War era there also were city and county Civil Defense workers.
Curbsides soon became lined with sodden carpets, water-soaked furniture, non-functioning appliances. TVs and stereo players. Property/monetary losses grew very large. Food in huge quantities was dumped, food stored in basement deep freezers.
J.V. Westerlund was Worthington’s official (and longtime) weather observer. “This is the most rain we’ve ever recorded since complete records were begun in 1908,” he reported. The record to that time was 4.67 inches of rain on a night in June, 1938. Westerlund said most of the 1969 rain fell in six hours, between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. — something more than one inch every hour.
There came to be a problem regarding where to put people. Jack Griffith and Ron Markman, two volunteer firemen, opened their homes to evacuated families.
At City Hall, the first trickle of emergency messages and letters began to flow. That paper flow — Bob Demuth’s file — continued through many, many months. There was a lot of “city plumbing” that needed to be changed, repaired, modified.
There was a story people told —
Mrs. George Nickel was living at 1626 Clary St. Her basement was full of water, her house was surrounded by water. Rescuers came to her door in a boat, but she declined to climb aboard. She believed she belonged in her house.
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.