Herald JournalHerald and Journal, July 1, 2002

Mobile park tenants flee their homes in early hours

By Lynda Jensen

Nearly half of the tenants at the Howard Lake mobile court were evacuated in the early morning hours Tuesday, fleeing by boat across several feet of water rising at the south end of the park.

The 30 victims included children and adults, who left the park at about 4 a.m. to take shelter at the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted High School.

The evacuation was done by the Howard Lake Fire Department, with the assistance of the Cokato Fire Department, Howard Lake Fire Chief Tom Diers said.

Mobile court tenants Doris Westphal and her daughter, Kristine, 19, ended up walking through the black water instead of using boats; fearful, cold, and wet, she said.

She evacuated their mobile home with her five children, ranging in age from 13 to 20 years old.

They ended up at the school, but the school itself sustained water damage in its community education and band rooms, which caused the flood victims to take refuge later that morning at a shelter set up by the Red Cross at St. James Lutheran Church.

About 10 mobile park homes were severely damaged, with another 10 receiving less damage, said Tammy Luhman of the Wright County Red Cross.

This is the second time in the recent past that the court experienced flooding, since spring flooding last year caused several inches of water to flood the southern part of the trailer court.

Some pumping efforts were attempted Tuesday morning at the mobile home park, but the owners planned to pump into the sanitary sewer system, which is illegal, Mayor Gerry Smith said. In addition, the pump arranged by the mobile home court did not have the right equipment, he said.

The trailer court hired DeWatering, Inc. from Wyoming, Minn., to pump out water.

This attempt at pumping turned out to be ineffectual, said Tom Goepfert of the city's maintenance department.

The city decided to hire away the pump on the spot, and moved it to the lift station located along Wright County Road 7, to help the floundering sanitary sewer system.

"It was a public safety issue," said City Administrator Kelly Bahn, pointing out that the mobile home park was private property and that moving the pump affected the health and well being of everyone in the city.

The pump was returned later that morning to the mobile court, along five four additional pumps loaned by the city the next day, he said.

The lift station was the only location that the pump was used, Goepfert said.

The removal of the pump caused anger with many mobile home park owners, who were staggering under the loss of their properties and homes.

Mobile park tenant Stacey Welter remembers sarcastically thanking the mayor for his assistance during the scene that morning, she said.

Welter incurred some loss, but did not lose her home in the flooding. Her 1992 Honda was inundated, which occurred to many tenants there.

During Tuesday, the city ordered and received 10 small garden hose pumps, and two two-inch pumps, Bahn said. These were distributed and connected by the Howard Lake Lions Club, said Fire Department Chief Tom Diers.

The sanitary sewer system did become overwhelmed and the city was forced to pump raw sewage into Howard Lake.

Pumping into the lake avoided backing up nearly every sewer system in town, City Clerk Gene Gilbert said.

Trailer court also has gas leak, fire

The fire department also responded to a gas leak at the mobile home park Tuesday as well, Diers said.

Friday morning, a fire struck one of the mobile homes that was not damaged by the flooding, Diers said. The fire burned an inside wall, he said.

The fire department also helped evacuate Troy and Susie Langes' home, where they received a call that someone was still caught inside the Lange home, Diers said. This turned out to be false, he said.


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