Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

After flood, Habitat helps local family


Traci LeBrun

East Central Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Wayne Eller walks 26 miles to Pine City Monday to raise funds for a Habitat house for the Powells of Willow River. From Pine City Eller plans to walk to Hinckley, pick up the Willard Munger Trail and walk to Duluth.

“Water was up over our knees on the main floor of the house,” stated Crystal Powell of Willow River. “The floor was moving underneath us from the pressure of the water in the basement while we were gathering as much as we could from the house.”

Shawn and Crystal Powell’s family home was flooded twice this summer — the first time Memorial Day weekend and the second time June 20. Crystal explained what happened in June. “The ground was still saturated from the Memorial Day flooding. Water was up to the top of the hillside by 7:30 at night. The basement filled quickly with water.

“We could feel the floor moving underneath us as water came up through the heat vents and through the floorboards. We loaded our four children in their carseats and put as many things as possible in the van. We drove to my father, Dan Pince’s, house. He came back with a truck and helped us get a few more things.

“But the current got too strong and we had to give up. Thankfully we were able to save a few keepsakes, photos, some clothes and our mattresses. The hardest part of the event was seeing the children cry as they watched their toys and belongings being carried away by the current. We were very thankful, however, that this didn’t happen during the night,” stated Powell.

The Powell family was unanimously accepted by the board of directors of East Central Habitat for Humanity (ECMHFH), to receive aid in rebuilding their new home. A couple of weeks after the flood in June, the Powells met at Willow River City Hall and contacted Wayne Eller, executive director for ECMHFH.

The family was told the house would be condemned and was unsafe to go back into because of the foundation and main support beam cracking and shifting. They were recently allowed back into the home to remove what they could, but most of their belongings were unsalvageable. The family had not obtained flood insurance because it was not required, as they were not in the floodplain and had just finished making some renovations to their home. The Powells are temporarily residing in a trailer home that was offered to rent by a local resident.

The house is scheduled to be burned October 13, if permits go through, and symbolically, will also be the day that Eller will conclude his 110-mile fund-raising walk from Habitat headquarters in Cambridge to Duluth. Eller plans to leave the Munger Trail briefly and visit the Willow River home site on Thursday morning between 9:30 a.m. and 10 a.m.

The Powells’ new home is expected to be completed one year from approval, which would be the end of next summer or early fall. The home will rest on two lots that are owned by the Powells plus an adjacent lot purchased by ECMHFH. The additional lot is higher in elevation and fill has been donated to prevent future flooding.

Crystal expressed the family’s thanks to Eller of ECMHFH, stating, “I have been absolutely blown away by the emotional and spiritual support given. He is a godsend.”

She spoke of the continual support of Vicki Whitehouse, from Willow River City Hall, her father and his unconditional support of the family, and the city of Willow River for their encouragement and donations to keep the family’s needs met.

The family selection guidelines for Habitat for Humanity include the following criteria:

– The family must work a combined total of 265 hours (this labor is called “sweat equity”) on the building of the home. Once moved in, the family must be a good steward of their home.

– A housing need: The family must be currently living in inadequate, over-crowded, or substandard housing. Family income must be too low to secure conventional financing, but sufficient to make monthly payments required on a no-profit, no-interest ECM Habitat for Humanity mortgage.

– The family must have lived in the five-county service area for at least one year prior to the date on application (counties include Pine, Mille Lacs, Kanabec, Isanti and Chisago.)

– At the time of application, combined family income cannot exceed a maximum amount which is listed on the ECMHFH website.

Community members can get involved by donating and/or participating in this cause. To donate, mail tax-deductible donations to East Central Minnesota Habitat for Humanity, P.O. Box 529, Cambridge, MN 55008. To join the walk or learn more, contact Eller at (763) 689-0288 or visit the website at


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