In flood's path, 'Everything that means everything to me'

Posted at 2:30 PM on April 6, 2011 by Paul Tosto (1 Comments)

The Wild Rice River in eastern North Dakota is behaving badly, swelling like it did in 1997 during what was then a record 100-year flood and like it did in 2009, when another 100-year flood came.

This week the river gauge at Abercrombie, ND is telling a similar story -- a flood line that looks like 1997.wildrice3.jpg

Mara Solberg and her husband Warren live downstream on their Horace, ND, farm. Now, for awhile, she is the story.


For the past week, Mara's been giving us a personal look at the challenges she and Warren face as the Wild Rice River swells its banks. With all the focus on flood defenses in Fargo-Moorhead, we haven't heard much from people in rural areas who are confronting the flooding with a lot less help.

This morning Cass County, N.D., put out a call for 30 volunteers to sandbag around parts of the Wild Rice.

The Solberg home sits about 300 feet from the flooding river. The time has come to face it.

She and Warren are staying at their house as the Wild Rice rises. There are two roads to the farm. She expects both to be impassable later today. In emails and phone conversations over the past week she's been helping us tell a story about life in the 2011 flood.

"Last night we made the decision to sandbag around the house," she wrote us on Tuesday.

"My husband called our two sons, and three neighbors -- they all came and with friends. We sandbagged the front of the house in 3 hours! I fed them supper and I began to feel much more relaxed and slept well.... The bridge has probably disappeared under the water so I don't think I will drive around to take a picture."

Warren, she says, calls this a slow flood. "It isn't coming up fast, and almost gives one an ominous feeling."

Mara talked with MPR's Tom Crann Wednesday afternoon.

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Mara sent us two photos of the bridge that leads to their farm.
Here's what it looked like in February:

and here's what it looked like a few days ago.

On Sunday, she wrote: "The river by the bridge came up 28" since last night at 7 so things are starting to get going We cleaned out the garage, put things up on the deck, and went to town to get medicine, batteries, etc. we need during the flood.

"We decided this time to stay and not try to drive through the water on the road this year. Its just too much work to get the tractor ready. If there is an emergency, there is help available.

"I felt grateful, because I won't be home alone during the day at all. I am sending a picture of the bridge as it looks today and also of the flowers I bought to help me make it through this. I am already stressed, but I feel so calm seeing the flowers in my kitchen!"

In floods past, "the fields in our area fill with water and we become an island. Our farm house is 100 years old and I would never have planned to live so close. The older farms built away from the river because they had experienced the great flood of 1897, so where old farmsteads once were, it's dry ground during flooding," she said.

"When the water goes down, we are left with debris, and I find that during the flood, I experience anxiety and depression. I am not sure why I am so affected, but it is very hard for me. And I worry about something happening and being unable to get out."

Tuesday night on the phone, she said she'd gone through her final run of preparations. When the big flood came in 1997, when her three kids were young, she said the family had to be choppered out.

When they were actively farming, they had a tractor big enough to get them out during the 2009 flood. But they've retired since then and sold all the big equipment.

Here's a photo from 2009 of Mara in a boat with her son Bjorn trying to get to the farm.

(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Their two sons are nearby ready to help. But Mara worries about the house. She's been uploading photos onto her computer in case they have to evacuate quickly. But she knows there are memories that might not be salvageable this time.

"Everything that means everything to me," she said, "is in this house."


"The last picture is what it looks like today. It is really moving fast now, over the road."

Mara's one of thousands of listeners around the region in MPR's Public Insight Network who share their insights and stories to make our reporting smarter.

Get the latest flood news on our flood blog.

Comments (1)

hope everything worked out ok!

Posted by bruce | April 30, 2011 12:07 PM

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