The daily briefing of public safety and government officials is underway in Fargo. The mayor of Moorhead, Mark Voxland , has been invited over and both are stressing that neither city ignores the other.
8:04 a.m. - Voxland says they hope to have all the sandbag dikes up to 42 feet today. He credits GPS technology with improving the flood preparations this year. Members of the Moorhead Fire Department (I wrote about this below) check all the homeowner and city walls with GPS to make sure they're all at 42 feet.
8:06 a.m. - The Army Corps of Engineers says it needs a day and a half to complete preparations and most are in the southern end of Fargo. The Moorhead side of the river should be "buttoned up" by this afternoon. Then the National Guard will be redeployed to the north side of the city.
Aside: I exchanged e-mails last night with one volunteer who was helping a friend in the southern end of Moorhead, who says the house has now been cut off because sandbagging and dike work completely encircled the neighborhood. In those cases, would you stay in the home or would you go?
8:09 a.m. - Officials have been asking people not to use much water. They're concerned about the sewage treatment plant be overloaded, although officials said the amount of "flow" dropped overnight. This is another upgrade from the flood of '97.
In Oxbow, the sewage treatment plant has failed and the pumps are "flooded" out. The National Guard is delivering another pump today.
8:14 a.m. - It snowed about 3-4" overnight. The city's are not plowing the neighborhoods.
8:15 a.m. - Fargo officials say they don't need as many volunteers now. There are areas where they don't want to bring busloads of volunteers, they'd rather have neighbors doing the sandbagging, City Commissioner Tim Mahoney said.
8:19 a.m. - A city official says at 5 p.m. yesterday, there were trucks loaded with sandbags at both sandbagging locations "with no orders left to fill." They're still making sandbags -- 150,000 are in heated storage -- in the event additional ones are needed.
8:21 a.m. -- Here's a live stream of downtown Fargo, from valleyfloodwatch.com.
8:22 a.m. -- Police officers are on 12-hour shifts. Signs have been posted on the dikes ordering people to stay off. The Guard and police are patrolling the dikes looking for areas where they may be failing.
8:25 a.m. - Fargo City Manager Pat Zavoral: "We're winding down. But if people want to do some sandbag filling, we're going to do that."
8:28 a.m. - A national Weather Service official, Greg Gust, from Grand Forks says the snow "is not an immediate player." They're still looking for a 40-foot crest early Saturday morning. "We have record flow coming from the south," he said. He says it's "scary." "It's uncharted territory for the flood plains," he said.
8:32 a.m. - Health official says they're encouraging nursing homes and hospitals 'to reduce their census." She suggests canceling elective surgery, sending patients home earlier. They're also identifying people in the area who are living at home, and "who may need extra help relocating if that becomes necessary."
8:33 a.m. - Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker "Elective surgeries is one thing but some can't be forestalled. They have backup generators." He says he's told the hospitals to be 'self contained," in order to stay open.
8:35 a.m. - North Dakota State University has canceled classes through Thursday. The university, however, has not been closed. "We want to keep those jobs flowing," an NDSU official said.
8:38 a.m. - Salvation Army served 9500 sandwiches on Tuesday, serving 38,000 people. 130,000 bottles of water. $30,000 of local Salvation Army money has been spent. "It scares the heck out of me to see what we're doing," an official said.
8:39 a.m. - Walaker joked that he was taken to task in 1997 for his comment on the quality of the sandwiches served in the great flood of '97. "They have improved dramatically," he said,
8:39 a.m. - Interstate 29 north of Fargo will be closed soon. The northbound side from Wahpeton, ND has been reopened.
-- End --
This morning I'm staying on the Moorhead side and talking to some more neighbors who are switching to wait-and-see mode.(1 Comments)
Kevan Rehm of Brooklyn Park drove to the Fargo Moorhead area this week to help out. He's like dozens -- perhaps hundreds -- of Twin Citians who are here. Just walking through the motel lobby a few minutes ago, the lobby is thick with men from the Twin Cities in workclothes and muddy boots, who've been working all night, some of them telling tales of running heavy equipment and sliding off the dikes.
Kevan sent us a detailed account of his experience. Here is his story.
(Update -- Kevan was later on MPR's All Things Considered. Listen)
I drove up yesterday evening and stayed at the Super 8 in north Fargo, just a mile or so from the FargoDome. They had a 15 to 20 % discount for sandbaggers. Every guest in the place had on work clothes. :-)
I arrived at 9:30 PM and worked 10 PM until 2 AM last night. My first sight was walking into the FargoDome. When you were a kid, did you ever kick open an ant hill? Suddenly the entire ground seems to be alive with constant motion as the ants are moving every which way. Well, that was the FargoDome.
They took out the floor and started dumping huge piles of sand everywhere. Around each sand pile was a dozen or more people filling sandbags, tying them off, and stacking them on pallets. Bobcats are whizzing around picking up full pallets and bringing back empty ones. Large bulldozers would rebuild the sand piles (5 feet high) each time that people would just be about done shoveling up the previous one. It was organized chaos; how you could have that many moving people and equipment and not have anyone run over, I'll never know.
Today when I went back and counted, there were 14 separate sand piles being processed by volunteers at the same time, with Bobcats and bulldozers flying around in between.
I got on the bus and went to Sandbag Central. They had three sand spiders working there. Each is a conveyor belt taking sand up high, then dumping it into the top of a cone shape which is really ten connected pipes each about 8 inches in diameter. The pipes are connected at the top, and flare out as they go down. At the bottom of each pipe, a person has a bag over the bottom of the pipe. When his bag is full, he pulls it off and his partner slips on the next bag. The sand coming down these pipes is continuous, so you can't stop. A third person or fourth person ties the sacks as they get them from the fillers. Other folks take the tied sacks and either pass them down a line to a truck or stack them on pallets. Each pipe needs about 5 people to manage it, and there's about 10 pipes per sand spider, and they had three spiders, so that's 150 people just to keep those three machines going.
In addition to the spiders, there are the piles everywhere where people are filling sacks with shovels. After an hour on the spider I switched to the sand piles because it's much more dynamic. If someone gets behind on filling sacks or tying sacks, someone else can switch jobs and help take up the slack. In the four hours I was there, you never stop.
The Red Cross is there with plenty of food. They even had scalloped potatoes with ham in heated trays. Does that count as hot dish? :-) You certainly wouldn't starve there.
People were amazing. Everyone wanted to work. If something would start to bog down, someone would notice and say "I'll take this" and deal with it. If the line for passing sacks from fillers to pallets got a little long, someone would step into the line and help pass. Nobody stood around; everyone jumped in and helped.
I can't tell you how many times someone thanked me for coming to help. You work with someone on the line, they don't know you're not a local, but as you start to leave, they turn and say "Thanks for coming to help". It's times like this that I know why I live in the Midwest, in spite of the weather. :-) I feel like these people are my neighbors. They're not my next-door neighbors, but they're my neighbors. :-)
At two AM I went back to the hotel and crashed, woke up at 9 AM, checked out, and went back for another four hour shift from 10 AM to 2 PM. I had hoped to work the dikes today, but I ended up at Sandbag Central again. They have folks on the radio constantly, including the bus drivers, so if people start to leave at Sandbag Central, they know immediately and send the next bus load of people there to replace them.
Today I learned how to tie the sacks shut. (Last night I spent all 4 hours piling sacks on pallets.) It turns out that the way you tie off a sandbag is the same way that you tie rebar at construction sites. I told my line partner that I'm prepared for a new career in construction in case I get laid off in my current job.
Two people can fill a sack in 15 seconds easily, usually less. Another person can tie off sacks and keep up with a pair of fillers. Another person can probably handle the output of two people tying sacks, filling the pallets with the tied sacks. If I'm doing my math correctly, that means two teams of fillers, or 7 people total can do about a thousand sacks per hour. There are at least two of these sets of people per sand pile. Just awesome.
I worked until two PM today, then decided it was time to go home. I felt guilty, but the hotel didn't have Internet, so I couldn't log in and work during the off hours, so I needed to get back to my day job. Still, I am really glad that I went. I met a lot of great, hard-working people, who have obviously been doing this day after day after day, and they are still cheery. I hope others keep coming into town to help them out. They need to keep up today's rate all the way through to Saturday if they are going to make it. Tell everyone to come and help!(6 Comments)
I was back on Riverview Circle in Moorhead today.
Temps in the 30s have replaced yesterday's 50s. Snow is covering the mud and already partially flooded streets. The kids who made the street buzz yesterday...
... are gone. Remnants of their sandbag-making are still in the street, along with a few sandbags.
The Red River, of course, is still here and getting closer.
Yesterday, at 3517 Riverview Circle, the water was starting to climb the stairs...
Today, it's got a lot fewer steps to go...
Teams of Moorhead firefighters are walking through the backyards of homes, checking the three-mile-long sandbag dike the residents and volunteers have built since Saturday. "Shooting elevation" they call it in flood prep lingo.
It's not always a happy "everybody pitches in to help the neighborhood" story.
As I sat with Bruce and Vikki Johnson at 3526 Riverview Circle, a firefighter knocks on the back door to tell them the wall behind a house a few doors down has to come up another foot. It's bad news. The man who lives there has refused to help build the dike, and didn't want it there in the first place. The fire chief gave him an ultimatum -- let the dike come through the backyard, or the city will build a clay dike in the front, and cut him off.
During the flood of 1997, it was "everyone for him/herself" in Moorhead. But this time, the decision was made to build one long dike around this neighborhood.
The Johnsons have been taking a breather today, but now they know they'll have to go back to work along with other neighbors, building up the dike behind the man's house. They'll have one less pair of hands to help. Their daughter, a high school senior, has left to help a friend whose family's home is "in trouble" somewhere along the Red..
Across the street -- at 3521 -- Todd and Donna Morse -- are thinking some of the water in the swimming pool in the backyard should be pumped out. Donna welcomes me in with the words that can make a grown man cry real tears: "I was just reading your blog."
Then, bad news comes on the phone: Emergency sandbagging is underway down in Wolverton, about halfway between here and Breckenridge. The river is higher than expected, and it's heading this way.
Teams of rescue specialists have surveyed where to store airboats, just in case river rescues become necessary later. Riverview Circle is one site that's been selected.
I didn't bring a tripod to Moorhead with me, and my camera is pretty low-end. But perhaps with this stitched-together panorama, you can get a sense of what things look like out the back of these homes. You can move your mouse back and forth and up and down. Apologies that this is somewhat crude.
I'm standing right behind the sandbagged dike (now under a cover of snow) , that stands at 42 feet. The flood crest is going to be at 41 feet on Saturday.
Think about that, for just a moment. The river here runs back beyond that second set of trees, it's crept out of its banks and across the backyards and is now heading up the bankings to the homes.
By Saturday, the water will be one foot below the top of the dike you see in front of you. If it breaks, and people aren't quick enough to fix it (there aren't extra sandbags in people's back yards), it's going to pour through, it'll go into people's homes and down their driveways and into the street. The street here is below the top of this dike.
Now imagine you're a homeowner and you get to three days with the river in this state and the danger that the dike could give way at any moment. There won't be much sleep on Riverview Circle this weekend.
I'm no expert on flood preparations, by any means. And nobody's thrown in the towel in Fargo-Moorhead, but you can almost feel the collective shoulders of the region sag a bit this afternoon with the latest projection that the Red River will crest at 41 feet this weekend.
That's only a foot lower than the top of the dikes that have been built along the river here, and that's not a lot of wriggle room. And that's if the weather people are right.
More roads are being closed in the area this afternoon, and more are going to be.
At the Highway 75 entrance to westbound Interstate 94, the beginnings of a clay dike are emerging. The river is thataway just a few hundred yards. Expect I-94 to close at some point.
In a previous post, I introduced you to another of the Riverview Circle residents I'm following this week -- Vikki and Bruce Johnson. Here's an update.
With the order to raise the sandbag levee by another foot, I couldn't imagine having the gumption to get back out and sling sandbags. When I was by earlier in the day, there were few people on the street. So this evening I headed back to the neighborhood. I needed to do something more to help than write words.
But there's more gumption here than water. Flatbed trailers full of sandbags lined the streets, people were walking toward Riverview Circle, after parking some distance away. The sandbag machine was back in action.
By the time I arrived, most of the work seemed to be done. I looked in at the backyard of the Morses. Check. And John Brummer's. All good. Across the way at the Johnsons, however, two sandbag lines had formed, starting with a pile that had been unloaded in the driveway. I jumped in there.
There's a method to this. You stand kitty-corner from a person across from you. I was at the beginning, picking up a bag, handing it to the person across from me who handed it to the person across from them. One line snaked down the backyard to the far neighbor's house, another went to the other side.
Periodically we'd stop as the line was moved as if it was a firehose.
The "theater kids" from Moorhead High School, my sandbag neighbor told me, were at the end of the line. They'd been here since about 1 p.m., about 7 hours ago. Why? One of the kids in one of these houses is a 'theater kid."
She -- my sandbag neighbor -- had been down the street at the sandbag filling area for several hours. "You freeze down there," she said. "Here, you stay warm by moving." She was proud, apparently, that the flood was the #2 story on the Today show, this morning. I said if we can just get a Hollywood actress to come schlep sandbags, we could be #1.
A Moorhead fireman joined the line and told me he's been working 14 hour days for four straight days. He'll be working them for more than four days more.
An older man from up the road crawled over the pile, trying to pry some frozen bags loose. We talked about how valuable the college kids have been in the tradition of students helping out during flood season over the years. "I remember the flood of 1969," he said. "We were the college kids, then," he added with a touch of sadness.
Two hours after I got there, we handed the last sandbag down the line. A cheer went up and within about two minutes, all of the people -- perhaps 200 were involved -- were gone.
Down at the now-43-foot levee, a few men added more sandbags to the river side of the wall, then stretched plastic over the top of the bags, and held it down with a few more bags. These were big men -- in some cases young men. But they've been doing this for several days now, and they struggled to lift the bags to the top of the wall.
Watching them, it was clear that people who live on the river must read up on the art of making a sandbag wall.
Meanwhile, the Red River is rising, of course.
Here's the view last Wednesday morning. Note the compost bin. The water is still considerably lower than it.
Here's the view on Wednesday night around 9 p.m.:
As I walked back to the car, parked several blocks away, three flatbed trailer trucks loaded with more sandbags were pulling in. Just in case.
Update 11:58 p.m. - Moorhead's sandbag central -- Nemzek Hall at the Minnesota State University Moorhead campus is now open 24 hours. They're calling for volunteers to help fill sandbags.(1 Comments)