The fall and rise of Rushford

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Rushford Mayor Les Ladewig speaks twice daily to
residents of the Minnesota town affected by the flood.
(Photo by Lynn Farrell/American Red Cross)

 

 By: Glenda Plunkett
American Red Cross

Rochester, MN, September 1, 2007; “Never Ever Give Up” is the battle cry for Rushford, MN severely affected by the flood. As a matter of fact they have printed signs that are in each storefront window to help boost morale. No one sings that more optimistically than Mayor Les Ladewig.

The nightmare for Rushford started in the early morning hours of August 19th when torrential rains combined with a dyke failure forced residents to flee their homes. Residents gathered at the Rushford High School and at the Good Shepard’s Nursing Home as flood waters rose. For much of that night Rushford Firemen rescued residents with boats as they battled more than twelve feet of flood water. “Not one life was lost thanks to their heroism, because of them we aren’t attending twenty funerals this week,” boasted the mayor.

The town was divided in half by a roaring river so two shelters, the Rushford High School and the Good Shepard Nursing Home, were initially established. As 4 more inches of rain were forecasted for the following day, the school fell threat to flooding. The nursing home held more than a hundred people in its activity area. This was impacting their normal activity. The mayor knew something needed to be done.

“Red Cross was here at first light. They graciously agreed to help and magic started to happen.  Red Cross brought with them over 300 cots to set up a shelter. Rodney Allen owner of RiverSide Electronics, and his General Manager, Gregg Reich, offered their newly acquisitioned TRW building to use in anyway we needed,” replied the mayor. At that point the TRW building became more than a shelter; it became the town community center where relief could be found. It was a grace from God type of thing that it was even available,” continued Ladewig. “You know now that I look back on it, TRW left town a year ago and we thought their departure was a real blow for our town. But if they had not, we would not have had that building open to do all the good it did.”

Meetings were held twice daily, 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., at the TRW building and relief came to the town of Rushford in many ways…Red Cross, Salvation Army, FEMA, Small Business Administration, Americorp, Children’s Disaster Services to name a few. Each tidbit of information was relayed to the community by the mayor who always kept the community’s best interest at heart.

“It was a privilege to serve these folks. Someone asked me if I followed the Emergency Operations Plan and I said, ‘You bet for the first 15 minutes’ and then we had to re-tailor the plan.” Ladewig humbly continued, “But we couldn’t have done any of this without the Red Cross. There aren’t enough good things to say about the Red Cross. There haven’t been enough kind words printed in the dictionary to describe it. I hung around the client assistance tables and asked people how they were treated as they walked away from their sessions. Not one person has been disgruntled or upset. The Red Cross didn’t just make an impact here. They made a statement! I can’t express how grateful I am to have their services available.”

 Thinking back on a town split by a river and then reunited by resilience the Mayor smiled and said, “Without a doubt Rushford will be back. We intend to have a town-wide picnic next year to celebrate our rebirth and we will all be wearing t-shirts that say ‘What flood?’”

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