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Families band together after evacuation from Ronald McDonald House

Among the families who were forced to evacuate the Ronald McDonald house in Rochester this weekend, Heather Pieper counts herself lucky.

The Eau Claire, Wis., woman now faces extra inconveniences and added expenses as a result of a water leak there, but unlike some of the other families, she has a car, she said. And while others had been at the house for eight or nine months, she had an easier time packing on the fly after being there just six days.

Pieper and her 2-year-old son, who has Down syndrome, were among 37 families who had to leavethe Ronald McDonald Home on Saturday afternoon after water leaked from a third-floor kitchen ceiling. Water was also noticed leaking through light fixtures on the second floor, according to the Rochester Fire Department.

"They were great helping everybody move," Pieper said of the Ronald McDonald House staff, noting that shuttles were provided to take families to the Ramada Inn and Suites in Rochester.

The Ronald McDonald House provides free or low-priced lodging to families with children receiving medical treatment in Rochester.


A busy scene unfolded in the hotel lobby late Saturday afternoon as families arrived all at once, but people were patient as the front desk scrambled to set them up with rooms, Ramada employee Kally Vorbeck said.

About 80 people were displaced by the water leak.

The water damage happened after a pinhole leak developed in a pipe in the Ronald McDonald House's attic, Assistant Fire Marshal Larry Mueller said. Fire crews shut down water supplies and helped remove standing water from the building, he said.

Repairs were under way Monday as the full extent of the damage was assessed, said Maggie Schoepski, the Ronald McDonald House's community development director. Families will be housed at the Ramada for "several days," she said, but she hoped to have news later this week of families returning to the Ronald McDonald House.

Pieper said families were called to the house's community room at 3 p.m. Saturday and told that they needed to evacuate.

There already was a community spirit among families at the house, she said, and people helped each other with moving and with day-to-day needs after moving to the hotel.

It is costlier to live at the hotel because there are no refrigerators, stoves or microwaves, making it necessary to eat out more often, said Pieper, who expects to leave Rochester after her son's last medical appointment on Wednesday. She added that being farther away from Mayo facilities adds inconveniences as well.

Water was noticed in common areas and did not damage families' personal belongings, Schoepski said. She said the house was evacuated as a matter of policy.


"We knew that it was something that we wanted to deal with so we had a chance to keep them safe," she said.

The Ramada is among a number of Rochester hotels that offers a special rate for families on the  waiting list for the Ronald McDonald House, which has 42 rooms. The families incurred no costs for their hotel stay and were given a care bag that included snacks, juice, and McDonald's coupons, Schoepski said.

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