WABASHA COUNTY, Minn. — It's been 10 years this month since the Zumbro River crested at 36 feet, unleashing an historic flood on rural Wabasha County. But Rod Sommerfield remembers the flood like it was yesterday.

"We absorbed so much rain that we had to wait until the ground froze to do anything about it," said Sommerfield, who farms corn and soybeans two miles south of Mazeppa.

He said they were unable to harvest any crops that season.

Sept. 24 is the 10-year anniversary of the 2010 flood that rocked the Zumbro River Valley and required the assistance of the National Guard.

North Fork Zumbro River in Mazeppa, Minn. (Noah Fish / Agweek)
North Fork Zumbro River in Mazeppa, Minn. (Noah Fish / Agweek)

The city of Zumbro Falls was hit the hardest, with city buildings, parks, businesses and homes completely washed out.

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Al VanDeWalker, the mayor of Zumbro Falls at the time, said what he remembers most about the flood is how fast it came.

"I think it was 11 inches in seven days," he said.

Of course, he'll never forget the devastation. VanDeWalker said they lost 26 out of the 80 homes in the city at the time. He remembers more than 30 LP gas tanks floating away from the city.

A number of businesses were also destroyed, he said, but most have come back.

"I still have one business owner that sends me a thank-you every year on the anniversary to tell me how glad he was that we helped out," VanDeWalker said.

He said the Zumbro Falls Fire Department also covers the city of Hammond, causing the crew to be stretched thin while responding to the flood. It didn't help that the fire hall also flooded.

"We got the equipment out of there, fortunately," he said.

There were strange instances that VanDeWalker recalls from 10 years ago, too. Like how when the floodwater reached a certain height on garage doors it shorted out the automatic switches, causing garage doors to open.

"So everything that everybody had in their garages, their coolers, boats and other stuff were out floating around," he said. "That was just one of the weird things that happened during it all, when all of a sudden you see garage doors opening up."

Once FEMA became involved in the cleanup process, all of the communities affected by the flood were able to pool together resources and get a clearer picture of the total damage.

VanDeWalker said that cooperation among cities was beneficial to him as mayor of Zumbro Falls.

"It's a small town, you know, and I'm a plumber by trade," he said. "I don't know all the things you gotta know to deal with a major flood."

He took a month off his job during the flood response, "to take care of what needed to be done" for the city to recover.

VanDeWalker considered himself one of the lucky ones, as the flood didn't damage his own home.

"I had a place to go to every night with my belongings, to try to make sense of it all," he said. "But many of my really close friends and even people with the fire department lost their houses and everything they owned."

Sommerfield said his family has been using regenerative soil practices on their farm near Mazeppa since the early '90s. He said their farm took most of the inches of rain and held it, while water quickly ran off other farms and caused "tremendous erosion."

"We need to stop letting the water run off the land, when there's simple ways we can do that," Sommerfield said.

Looking back, what VanDeWalker is most grateful for is that no lives were lost in the flood.

"That's my biggest accomplishment as mayor," he said.