Hokah couple trapped by mud SPECIAL SECTION

By Jeff Hansel

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

HOKAH — Harold Zibrowski is counted among the survivors of the floods that swept through southeastern Minnesota nearly two weeks ago. But survival took all night, a strong will, repeated encouragement from his wife and a team of rescuers.

The relentless rains that fell Aug. 18 and 19 sent floodwaters gushing over roadways as mudslides took hundreds of trees down hillsides.

A mudslide inundated Zibrowski’s rural-Hokah home after the bluff behind the house he shares with his wife, Phyllis, gave way in a roiling, massive release of boulders, trees, limbs, rocks, soil, water and mud.


Zibrowski, 83, became caught in the quicksand-like mass when he sought a way to escape the house. The basement and nearly all of the first floor of the couple’s home was swept away, leaving Zibrowski fighting his way through the sludge.

He nearly lost his life to hypothermia, though his physical wounds have now begun to heal.

For a while in the darkness, he worked his way back toward the remaining parts of the house, but he could never quite get there. Eventually — his body buried waist-deep — his position left him unable to do anything but swat away sticks and rocks as they flowed past like cold, wet lava from a volcano, covering every part of him overnight in muck.

"The water was splashing up over me quite a bit," Zibrowski said.

Every few minutes, Phyllis Zibrowski would call to her husband from her spot inside the one remaining section of their first floor, where she remained trapped.

Together, the pair survived the night. They were rescued Sunday morning, Aug.19. Harold was taken by ambulance to Mayo Health System’s Franciscan Skemp Hospital in La Crosse, Wis., where he later received a pacemaker when he developed heart trouble.

The hospital reported that it treated up to 24 injuries related to the flood, not including people who went to urgent care, said Mayo spokesman Joe O’Keefe.

Gunderson Lutheran staff reported about 50 injuries at the hospital — mostly minor — according to spokesman Chris Stauffer. He said examples include hand injuries and large scratches.

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