Howard Lake Herald, April 28, 1997

Flood victims tell their story


"If I hadn't been holding onto the car door handle, I would have been swept away," said Maria Stallmo.

Maria and her husband, Sherman, are residing in Buffalo with their daughter, Sandy Phelps, secretary in the HLWW High School office.

The Stallmos described their experiences of April 17-18 in the East Grand Forks flood.

We are retired and live in a duplex, owned by Sandy. We take care of it for her, and our son, Jim, owns a duplex next door.

The city put up dikes where there had never been any before. They were about 40 yards from the back of our house. We are on pretty high ground.

This is only the second time we have had to sandbag.

The forecasters put the crest at 49-50 feet, and we were plenty high for that level.

They were wrong, and it just kept coming and coming. It finally crested at almost 55 feet.

Thursday night, the sirens woke us up. Some of the dikes were leaking.

It was like a war. The helicopters and airplanes were flying all night, putting out fires.

The city and a lot of volunteers put up the main part of the dike. The city gave us four pumps, and they were working full-time.

We had eight or nine people sandbagging for us; but by about 2 p.m. Friday, we had no more sandbags.

We made three calls for more help, but it never came. The sandbags were leaking and finally gave way.

As the river burst through the sandbags, a four-foot wall of water came over the trunk of the car as we were trying to get in.

My boots were filled with water, and the current was so strong I could hardly hold on to the car, said Maria.

The water came into the car as we got in.

You know how in the disaster movies, the car never starts. Well, ours did! We were just able to get out ahead of the worst of the water.

We took the only streets available to us. As we came close to the Kennedy Bridge, there was a policeman directing traffic away from it.

His patrol car was sitting in front of the bridge, and as we passed by it, he lost it to the water.

You may have seen the top sticking out of the water on the news pictures. In another television report, the sign on the corner of the street where we owned a home just a year ago was just barely above water.

Some of the homes are under 20 feet of water, and many have come off their foundations.

We got out with just an overnight bag each that we had packed ahead of time, but we had to leave a big leather suitcase full of pictures and memorabilia.

We just hope it stays dry.

Our son took video pictures of the flood; but when the dike broke, he left it behind when he ran out.

He headed for Crookston and got a motel room. In just a short time, the desk clerk told him there were over 200 calls for rooms. He was lucky.

The city workers were quick to shut off the electricity once we got out. The fires in the other areas were mostly caused by electricity, the officials told us.

Everyone from our area went to Crookston to the emergency center. There are about 3,000 people there. They can even get their mail there now.

We headed south for Buffalo. It was a long drive, and we were tired. Chewing on sunflower seeds and making several stops helped to keep us awake.

Now that we are here, we are planning on moving to the area. We can be near the grandchildren, and that's nice.

The Federal Emergency Management Association is so busy, I can't even get through to find out what kind of help we can get.

We lived on the second floor of the duplex. The lower level was a garden apartment, and it is not all that high.

So we don't know what damage has been done. The lower level is flooded for sure.

We never needed flood insurance there. It was considered safe.

Flood insurance does not cover personal possessions, furniture, carpet, or even drywall. The house has to be structurally damaged. It does pay for your heating plant.

When we can go back, we will salvage what we can and move.

One of our biggest problems has been to get in touch with Maria's relatives in Germany.

They see the television, but don't know what happened to us.

All our addresses and telephone numbers are still in the apartment.

It helps to talk about it. I get knots in my stomach, if I just sit and think about it, said Sherman.

Sandy and her daughters, Kala, 6, and Haley 12, live in Buffalo. She said, "All my papers are in the duplex, so I don't know where I stand with the insurance. I am definitely going to fix it up and sell it."

What Jim Stallmo will do remains to be seen. He has had a bit of bad luck this past year in addition to the flood, said his dad.

With help from his family, he fixed up his duplex last spring. While he was taking a nap after the clean-up stage, the air-conditioner caught fire and he barely escaped with his life. He did lose his cat.

Several weeks ago during the big wind storms, a large tree fell on his pick-up truck and siding blew off his garage.

Just as the truck was about to be repainted, the flood came. He also lost his car parked in the garage by the duplex as the waters engulfed the area.

This is one of many stories that touches local lives.

The Tom Thumb chain of stores is doing a corporate wide campaign for flood donations.

All money collected in the stores will be turned over to the American Red Cross for flood relief.

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