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Flood preparations underway in Montevideo

Tom Cherveny / Tribune Workers with Builders First Source built a sandbag wall to protect the lumberyard and store in Montevideo's Smith Addition. In front are Curtis Fernholz, left, and Paul Carlson, of St. Cloud, helping out. 1 / 7
Tom Cherveny / Tribune Jon Clausen with Heather Floral and Nursery carries new plants out of the greenhouse in Montevideo's Smith Addition. The plants are being moved to other locations in anticipation of flooding. 2 / 7
Tom Cherveny / Tribune Sheets of ice piled upstream of the Churchill dam Tuesday on the south end of Lac qui Parle Lake as flood waters from the Lac qui Parle River poured into the lake. 3 / 7
Tom Cherveny / Tribune Montevideo High School students helped fill 20,000 sandbags on Tuesday to assist the city in its flood fight. In foreground, Abby Marquardt, left, and Aurora Wymar are among the volunteers. 4 / 7
Tom Cherveny / Tribune New owner Randy Leppke of Heather Floral and Nursery in Montevideo's Smith Addition moves inventory out of the greenhouses and store there on Tuesday in preparation of flooding. The new owner began working at the business one month after the 1997 flood brought over two feet of water on to the first floor. 5 / 7
Tom Cherveny / Tribune The bridge over the Chippewa River at the Watson Sag was closed Tuesday as ice and trees and debris carried by the flood river backed up against it. 6 / 7
Tom Cherveny / Tribune This is the view upstream from the Churchill dam on the south end of Lac qui Parle Lake, where a field of ice sheets piled up on Tuesday. 7 / 7

MONTEVIDEO — When floodwaters struck Heather Floral and Greenhouse in the spring of 1997, owner Duane Hastad had to slosh through more than two-feet of water in his greenhouses to tend to his young plants.

Lesson learned. New owner Randy Leppke, his four employees, and family and close friends all joined on Monday to move nursery plants from two greenhouses to Heather Floral and Greenhouse locations in Madison and Dawson, as well as the Montevideo High School. The high school opened its greenhouse to assist the local business, just as it had previously in 2001.

"We know what to do,'' said Leppke. Eight of the10 historic river crests recorded in Montevideo have occurred since 1997 (including two crests in 2011). This business in the Smith Addition along the Chippewa River has been through them all. Leppke missed only one: He started working here one month after the 1997 flood. One month ago, he became its new owner.

Employee Jon Clausen has been through them all, the worst being 1997. He remembers sandbagging in freezing rain and going back at it the next day in a blizzard.

Clausen and Leppke are not expecting that level of misery this time around. Both are optimistic the building itself will stay dry. "You have to be on the safe side,'' Leppke said of the decision to remove all of the plants just in case. He even lined up temporary housing for the floral shop's resident cat, Simba.

The National Weather Service is projecting a flood crest of 21.5 feet on the Minnesota River in Montevideo on Saturday, as compared to 23.9 feet in 1997. A 21.5 foot crest would bring water to within a few feet of the front doors, they said.

Smith Addition

Ron and Larry Kittelson have made the same calculation on the house their family owns in the Smith Addition. They were busy on Monday too. Their plan is to have the furnace and hot water heater out of harm's way before the water arrives.

They are the owners of one of 17 residences that remain in the Smith Addition area. There were 120 houses in the area in 1997. More than 400 people in Montevideo were displaced by that year's flood.

Those who remain in the Smith Addition have declined buyout offers from the city. Ron Kittelson said they just enjoy living there. "It's like living in the country, quiet,'' he said.

Kevin Amborn, owner of A & L Plumbing, on Smith Street, missed the 1997 flood. He moved back to Montevideo in 1998. He's learned all he needs to know in the floods that have followed. Amborn said he was placing much of his equipment and inventory on a large pontoon boat he parked in his shop building. The rest will be up on shelves, a good four feet above the floor.

Amborn said he will just clean up when the waters recede. "I have to do it every year anyway," he said of the spring cleaning.

Just a short distance from his shop, a team of workers with Builders First Source filled sandbags and prepared a sandbag wall to keep the lumberyard and store protected.

There remain eight businesses in the Smith Addition. Amborn and Leppke said no businesses were offered buyouts.

Preparations

The city is working to minimize the disruption of this year's floodwaters, which could rank as the fourth highest on record if current projections prove true. The city and Duininck's Inc. are adding clay and sandbags to shore up the levee in the Gravel Road area. The city will be closing sewer and gas service to low lying areas when the waters reach major flood stage of 18.5 feet, which is expected to be later Wednesday.

On Tuesday, students at the Montevideo High School joined to fill 20,000 sandbags to be used on the levee and in the flood fight. The city's volunteer firefighters had joined last week to fill 5,000 sandbags.

While Leppke and his helpers moved out the inventory at Heather Floral and Nursery, another worker came in to put together a floral arrangement for a funeral on Monday. Lepkke said the business will operate pretty much as usual through the flood, with the stores in Madison and Dawson making up for what can't be done in Montevideo.

Tom Cherveny

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

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