The intense thunderstorm of July 5-6, 1978, caused record flooding on the South Fork Zumbro River at Rochester, Minnesota. It was Rochester’s worst natural disaster in almost 100 years and the worst flood in the city’s history.
By the time the river subsided, at least five people had lost their lives and over 5000 residents were forced to leave their homes. Millions of dollars of flood damage was reported, but as anyone who has been though such natural disasters will tell you, the real losses are impossible to calculate.
People going through such events will also tell you how the expereince can bring out positive aspects of their character they never knew they had. They find unknown skills and strengths within, that facilitate amazing personal growth and social enhancement. I’m sure there are many stories of just these sort among my fellow Rochester residents of that year. Stories of great heroism and sacrifice. Stories of tragic loss and miraculous transformation.
On East Center Street, we were right smack dab in the middle of this epic flood so… we had an epic party.
Our house was on the high side of the river so that whole first night, as the storm was raging, so was our party. We deluded ourselves that nothing could drive us from our cool party pad, but the only truly amazing thing was that we lasted as long as we did before being forcibly evacuated by the cops the next day. Although you can’t see our house in this photo, it’s clear how the whole area was eventually completely covered by the rising up of the “Scumbro”.
What a mess!
But we had had our fun all that night, smoking bong hit after bong hit as we watched the river get higher and higher. There was this one car still left in the Mayo Civic’s parking lot. Over the course of our party that evening we would regularly look out to see how close the water was and then, how far it had risen until the car was completely submerged by morning.
And the coolest thing that morning was watching this cop car sitting on the East Center Street bridge. The cops had just called us all out of our house (along with the entire neighborhood) and they were starting to block off the road to the bridge. At first we thought it was simply because the water was coming up Mayo Park Drive and would soon cover the street, but on the high side there wasn’t going to be much of a current so we weren’t worried about being carried away or anything.
Then we got wind of a more intense drama.
A huge LP gas tank had dislodged from it’s mount up stream and was floating straight for the bridge. The water was so high that it was already pounding the side of the bridge so when this tank hit, it was going to hit hard.
Would it explode? We sure hoped it would.
If that tank exploded it was going to blow up that cop car with it. That was something we simply had to see. We weren’t the only ones watching either. The pending collision was drawing a very large crowd and there was no way the cops could get us all to move away in time.
And then it hit.
Me and the rest of our East Center Street gang watched with great intensity. We were at the front of the crowd and everyone was starting to cheer as we saw the tank come into view. It was floating fast, like a pine log heading down to the mill. The front end smashed into the bridge with an enormous clang!
There was no explosion, however. The tank simply rolled under the bridge, banging several times as it went. Nope, no explosion, there was nothing but a lot of confused milling about and I started wondering what to do next when I felt a tap on my shoulder, it was Mark.
“Virge, let’s go.”
“Go… go where?”
“You remember that research lab I told you about? This will be the perfect time to go and get that scale.”
I’d nearly forgotten about this idea (more like an obsession) Mark had to get this scale he had somehow seen at some research lab. He wanted it to more accurately weigh out his weed. I’d never been to the place but I knew where it was. It was only a few blocks from our house and Mark was actually quite correct that it was a pretty safe bet no one would be watching during this disaster.
I guess I had promised to help and here I was with nothing to do and a good buzz on and…
Ok, so I may be deluding myself right now as to whether or not I wanted to be part of Mark’s little caper. My part wasn’t much so I don’t think I thought about it much at the time, but my adult self is well aware that we could have both gotten some serious jail time for this.
Anyway, I stood guard while Mark jumped the fence, broke in and came back with the scale. I don’t know how he got in but apparently he’d been casing the place for a while and waiting for the opportunity.
This flood was that opportunity, but if Mark had thought this cool new scale was going to lead to anything of value, he was deluded.
Since we lived on the second floor of the house, the flood didn’t affect us that much. But this was the beginning of the end for me on East Center Street, even if I didn’t know it just yet. My job at Tinkler’s would be over in a few weeks and before the end of the month, I would be heading out on the road with George Heaton and his band of predators and scammers.
I’m nearly coming to the point where these stories converge, but first I need to wrap up a few things…