Brownsville families grateful to be alive after slide

2007-08-20T00:00:00Z Brownsville families grateful to be alive after slideDAN SIMMONS / La Crosse Tribune La Crosse Tribune
August 20, 2007 12:00 am  • 

BROWNSVILLE, Minn. - Two bluffside houses across from Crater Island collapsed beneath an avalanche of mud early Sunday, sending at least eight people - two sets of grandparents and grandkids - tumbling down the side of the bluff as windows shattered and wood splintered around them. Remarkably, none died.

"It's a miracle," Jamie Krenzke said Sunday afternoon as he sorted through the rubble of what used to be his childhood home.

His mother, Joanne Krenzke, and stepfather, Scott Woodard, were hosting three grandkids overnight, including Jamie Krenzke's daughter Makayla, 7. It was the first night away from home for her cousin, Kaitlyn, 2, said her father, Anthony Krenzke.

All were sound asleep when, at about 2 a.m., the forested bluff above them gave way after a night of unrelenting rainfall, crashing down directly atop their two-story house on its path downhill.

Lynn and Sharon Partington's house just south of theirs on North Second Street met the same fate. They also had a grandchild spending the night with them who was sleeping when the slide demolished their house, said neighbor Julie Thompson.

"They crumbled like doll houses," said another neighbor, Karen Snodgrass.

The kids at Krenzke's house, sleeping in a bluffside room, hardly moved. The slide took the roof above them and launched a red car parked behind the house about 50 feet downhill, but barely budged their sleeping quarters.

Woodard, on the other hand, got sent about 50 feet downhill, sustaining a concussion and cuts to his head, shoulders, arms and torso.

Once his slide stopped, he climbed back up the hill while dripping blood, wading through knee-deep slop to reach the kids, Jamie Krenzke said. Makayla was beneath three feet of debris. Woodard rescued all the kids and brought them to safety at a neighbor's house.

Woodard was treated for his concussion and given a CT scan at a Decorah, Iowa, hospital, Krenzke said, but his wounds were not believed to be life-threatening. Makayla was treated for cuts and scrapes, he said, while her two cousins and her grandmother miraculously escaped without needing medical care. The Partingtons couldn't be reached for comment, but Thompson said all were shaken but OK.

About a half-mile north, Bob Grams' yard and storage shed got washed down the bluff, sending at least four vehicles plus tires, barrels and assorted knick-knacks tumbling down the hill and covering Highway 26 and the railroad tracks beside the Mississippi River. A blue 1970s-era Oldsmobile lay buried in mud over the train tracks. But the white house with red shingles shared by Grams, 82, and his wife, Rita, went untouched.

Grams has lived at the property since he was 2 years old, he said, and had never seen another mudslide - nor another rainfall so intense. His gauge measured more than 13 inches.

"The ground gets so wet and it can't hold anymore," he said. "It just goes."

Jamie and Anthony Krenzke heard about the collapse just after 8 a.m., they said. After visiting their parents and kids, they went to the site, rummaging through heaps of debris - a television, cable box, a window air conditioner, jewelry boxes, lamps.

First, they retrieved a collection of family photographs their mom kept in a drawer. They were sodden but savable. Next, they collected things requested by their kids.

Anthony retrieved a cartoon car pillowcase and a "Superman" movie for his son, Seth. Then Jamie retrieved his niece Kaitlyn's size-61/2 white tennis shoes, with sparkly vertical stripes. He put them beside Seth's size-13 brown boots and Makayla's size-13 white tennis shoes.

"Get outta there!" screamed a voice from below. "We're expecting another 2 inches an hour!"

It was a Brownsville firefighter, going up Highway 26 and evacuating every home and business as another night of heavy rainfall was forecast.

"We're real worried about another slide," said neighbor Kathy Gillis.

Dan Simmons can be reached at (608)791-8217 or dsimmons@lacrossetribune.com.

Copyright 2015 La Crosse Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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