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Headstrong 1997 flood survivors find their answer

Be headstrong and trust in God, Marv and Diane Patten advise flood victims in northeast Minnesota. They were unprepared for the floodwaters that hit their home and business in Granite Falls in 1997. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

GRANITE FALLS -- Speak up for your needs, be headstrong and trust in God.

That's the advice Marv and Diane Patten offer up for flood victims in Duluth, having been through the same in April 1997.

"People could easily give up, they easily could,'' said Diane Patten of the struggles ahead. "We're fighters and survivors, but not everyone is.''

The Pattens own and operate Granite Greenhouse and Floral in Granite Falls. They had no expectations that their business and home on the west side of the community -- miles away from the Minnesota River -- would be flooded.

Yet it was, when flood waters followed an overflow channel and backed up at a U.S. Highway 212 bridge alongside their property.

Diane woke up on a Sunday morning and walked down the stairs to step right into the water gushing through the first floor of their home.

"It all came that quickly,'' she said.

Recovery was anything but quick. It was made worse in their case by a double-whammy. Their floral shop in downtown Granite Falls along the Minnesota River was also flooded. The water in it rose to a height far greater than they prepared for.

The couple ate at an emergency canteen dubbed the "Deluge Diner" until the end of May. It wasn't until the following January that they could move out of a FEMA camper and back into their home.

Even that proved to be a mistake.

The remodeling work they had done failed to eliminate the mold. They have since had to re-do all of the work.

Not knowing they lived in an area that could flood, they had no flood insurance on their home or business. They took out a Small Business Administration loan, and a bank loan, and added debt to credit cards in the aftermath of the flooding.

Diane, who will soon turn 70, and Marv, 74, knew 15 years ago that any plans for retirement would have to wait. The financial setback was like starting all over, they said.

Their only regret is that they were too complacent or accepting of what came their way in the aftermath. "You shouldn't be afraid to speak up, you shouldn't sit back,'' said Diane.

Today, they are working with the City of Granite Falls and its flood mitigation program. They have hopes of removing their structures from what is now identified as floodplain.

The business they started in 1971 remains strong, they continue to enjoy the work, and their newly-rebuilt home is everything they could want.

Diane said she had called her oldest son immediately after stepping into the floodwaters in her home in 1997 and told him:

"I don't think God answered my prayers.''

Today, she feels otherwise. "God works things to the good,'' she said.

Marv said the support from others helped, even the unexpected. They still have a box full of cards wishing them well from St. Paul elementary students who had read about their ordeal in 1997.

Whenever they see the disasters that others face, Marv said they feel compelled to help. They donated a load of bedding and plants to Wadena County for its fairgrounds after a tornado had ripped through the grounds.

Marv sat on the back porch in July 2000 and watched the tornado that tore a path of destruction through Granite Falls, just two blocks from their home and business. Just two minutes earlier, Diane had turned off the street where the F4 tornado touched down.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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