In Brookston, flood’s already in the history booksSusan D. Smith is known around Brookston for her books about local history. This spring, they’ve met with another book, but this one about very recent history — the flood that consumed the village and its environs last summer.
By: Mike Creger, Duluth News Tribune
Susan D. Smith is known around Brookston for her books about local history. This spring, they’ve met with another book, but this one about very recent history — the flood that consumed the village and its environs last summer.
Smith says her book, “The June Monsoon of 2012,” is the product of the community spirit that she saw around her as the town and its residents struggled to get back some sense of normal.
“It was an easy book to write,” she said this month. “I asked flood victims to tell their stories, and they welcomed me.”
One purpose of the book, aside from getting down history, was to leave something from which other generations to learn.
“We didn’t have a clue what we were doing,” Smith said of the initial efforts to evacuate and protect the small town of 150 people as the St. Louis River swelled. “It had been 50 years since we’d had a flood.”
Using the knowledge of some elders, residents did get things together. A long-term recovery committee was formed and fundraisers held.
There were two milestones in mind when the recovery began in Brookston, Smith said. Residents wanted things in good enough shape to celebrate the Fourth of July, the town’s annual summer celebration. Then cleanup would resume, getting people in homes by winter.
“That was kind of the break,” Smith said of the Fourth. “Then it was back to work. We all lost a whole summer.”
The book tracks the efforts of nine families where Smith heard intimate details about how people felt about the flood’s impact. It begins with an account of how the flood happened.
“A lot of emotion went into this one,” she said.
She included an essay by a 12-year-old boy talking about his feelings after the flood. She was witness to one resident on the day the resident moved back into home.
That access made collecting material easy, she said, but the book took its toll on her.
“It was hard emotionally,” she said.
Bob Rabber is in the book. He hasn’t been able to move back into a home yet.
“It was a very devastating thing,” he said after calling the book “wonderful.”
Rabber was hit the hardest of the six river homes severely damaged.
“I was the deepest,” he said of river surge.
He said his property looks much different with buildings torn down. In November, he became mayor of the city.
“It’s going good here,” he said of the overall recovery. Money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency is being used this month to make final fixes to streets and culverts, Rabber said.
Tom Diedrich was one of the people who helped to rally residents in the early days of the flood recovery. He said he was lucky that he lives on a hill and avoided flood damage.
He said people put in plenty of hours to help others, even if they didn’t ask for it.
“You’re gonna get help regardless,” Diedrich said.
He said the flood was a good lesson for his children about helping out neighbors in rough times.
“We just helped,” he said. “People fell into place.”
Residents have been thankful for the book, Smith said, with people clamoring for more on sale at the place that became an ad-hoc recovery center, the Brook Saloon.
“They called me and wanted books,” Smith said. “Everybody loves it.”
She then demurred a bit, saying “they buy every book I write.”
“The June Monsoon of 2012” interrupted another history book project she’d been working on, and now she’s back to working on it.
And talk around town has it that a new celebration — maybe one with a water-carnival theme — may one day mark Brookston as it recognizes its historic flood, now captured in ink.