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Willmar homeowner recounts flood that nearly destroyed her home

Nicole Franzwa hoped she had done everything she could to keep the flooding in the basement of her Willmar home down to a minimum before she went to bed Aug. 10. Using lessons learned from two years previous, when about 5 inches of rain water cam...

Briana Sanchez / TribuneNicole Franzwa tears up as she talks about how it made her kids feel when they found out some of their things could not be recovered from the flood damage Friday at her home in Willmar.
Nicole Franzwa tears up as she talks about how it made her kids feel when they found out some of their things could not be recovered from the flood damage Friday at her home in Willmar. Briana Sanchez / Tribune

 

Nicole Franzwa hoped she had done everything she could to keep the flooding in the basement of her Willmar home down to a minimum before she went to bed Aug. 10.

Using lessons learned from two years previous, when about 5 inches of rain water came into her basement, Franzwa had three pumps going and moved everything off the floor and onto the beds.

Her four children who sleep in the basement: Christopher, 15, Brandon, 14, Karley, 13 and Tiffany, 11, camped upstairs for the night, figuring it would probably be a little damp the next morning.

"The next morning we had 21 inches of sewer water. It came in so fast," Franzwa said.

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Related GoFundMe page link: Flood Damage Fund 4 Nicole Franzwa

When Franzwa and her family first looked into the basement that morning, they couldn't believe their eyes.

"Everything was floating. At first I was in shock," Franzwa said.

By the morning of Aug. 11, more than 8 inches of rain had fallen in Willmar and the city's storm sewer system and wastewater treatment plant were overrun, causing water to back up into basements.

"It was dark brown and it smelled," Franzwa said.

The floodwater not only destroyed much of the children's belongings but also the water heater, water softener, washer, dryer and furnace.

The flood also put Franzwa out of work.

She is a home daycare provider and with her house in the state it was, she wasn't able to continue work until it was clean and safe.

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At first Franzwa said she just wanted to pack up her kids and leave.

She had just put the finishing touches on the basement two years ago, after the last flooding incident, thinking it wouldn't happen again.

She didn't want to face the possibility she would have to do it all over again.

"We lost everything and how do we start over," Franzwa said.

Start over they did.

Franzwa immediately called a cleaning company in Alexandria to come down and help get the water out.

It took nearly three days with several pumps going before the basement was completely empty. What was left behind was devastating.

"Everything was covered in mud, but it wasn't mud it was sewer," Franzwa said.

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Once it was possible to begin moving things out, the real cost became apparent.

While it was stuff, Franzwa said, it was her children's stuff and their memories.

"My one daughter sat on the floor crying," Franzwa said, the emotions still raw.

She said while her sons took it better than the girls, it was still hard on all of them. With little room upstairs for four extra people, and the basement bedrooms wrecked, the house suddenly became very small.

"They were all fighting over who was sleeping on the couch," Franzwa said. Those left out had to sleep on the floor. It was so bad the children wanted to be anywhere but at home, a change from the normal.

"Everyone was angry, everyone was depressed," said Franzwa, who also has a 2-year-old son, Carter.

With all the damage the water and sewer backup caused, Franzwa was looking at thousands of dollars in damages. While she called her insurance company right away, there hasn't been much help yet in that quarter.

"We had $1,000 in coverage," Franzwa said. She couldn't believe it at first, because two years ago her policy covered $10,000. However, between the two floods Franzwa changed her homeowner's policy, to cover her daycare business. Somehow her sewer backup coverage was reduced drastically. Franzwa said the insurance company is still working to hopefully rectify that mistake and help her, but so far it's been a slow process.

"It's all out of pocket so far," Franzwa said.

The first week after the flood Franzwa had friends and family helping out to start the clean up.

"They worked pretty hard," Franzwa said.

The Salvation Army gave the family a $60 gift card from New To You thrift store for furniture and others stepped up to find beds for the children. Family provided each child with $100 to buy new bedding.

"When school started they all had beds," Franzwa said.

Franzwa still hasn't decided how much remodeling work she wants to do in the basement. While she knows she can't just leave it bare bones, because her children deserve a nice space for their bedrooms, Franzwa really doesn't want to put carpet down again. She also would like to know what the city is doing to prevent such a disaster from happening again.

"It wasn't just my house. We can't afford this," Franzwa said, adding many neighbors around her also had massive amounts of water in their basements.

It was a helpless feeling, knowing everything she did to remodel her basement the first time and the work she did when the water first started leaking in this August wasn't enough and might not be enough the next time.

"What do you do as a homeowner?" Franzwa said.

While it seemed to take forever, things are starting to get back to normal.

"The month felt like a long time," Franzwa said.

The furnace was repaired and has passed the safety inspection. A new washer and dryer is on its way, thanks to Catholic Charities. Family Services stepped up and paid Franzwa's utility bill when it became due but she had no money to pay it because she had been out of work. The Red Cross, friends and family also played important roles in helping to get things back to some kind of normalcy for the family.

"It's been a collaboration of a lot of things," Franzwa said.

Her daycare is now back up and running, though she did lose a few families due to the flood. School has started and the children are back to wanting to bring friends over.

"One of my kids said it is a fresh start," Franzwa said.

Related Topics: WEATHER
Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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