Highlights from the 8am flood meeting in Fargo
* Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker is reading from a statement. I've been too busy to hear what's been said or written about him but he emphasized that "the buck stops with me," and he accepts full responsibility for what he's said.
* Walaker addressed people who were upset about his good-natured ribbing of the University of North Dakota, which lost a hockey game. Seriously. Some UND supporters paused long enough to get upset about a joke. So today Walaker is wearing a "Fighting Sioux" cap.
* Walaker said his "thrill" today was meeting Al Roker.
* City Commissioner Tim Mahoney says it's unsettling not to get a call at 3 a.m. anymore, but "things are calming down." But the river is only four-tenths of a foot below the high-water mark of the historic 1997 flood.
* Here's the latest river projection:
* A blizzard is heading this way. 8-12 inches is expected. A lot of streets weren't plowed from the last storm.
* Bruce Johnson checked in (by way of comments below) and reports good things on Riverview Circle:
Hi Bob, It is in the middle of the night and I am in the garage taking a break from managing the pumps in our back yard. This is the first time I have had time to go to your blog and see your good work. All of my family in Nebraska are concerned about what is going on up here so I will get them on your site! It is quiet out here tonight. I just talked with 5 firemen from Duluth that are walking the dike. They were told they can go home and get some sleep in a half hour. Last night we had firefighters and national gaurd walking thru the yard every 10 minutes or so. This is a good sign. We have food and coffee in the garage but this is the first night nobody is hanging out in here. I have the fire pit glowing with a nice fire outside. I am down to 2 pumps and they are not runing full time so the seepage is really slowing down. Time to check the dike and pumps. Keep up the good work! Bruce
* The wind is kicking up and will affect outlying areas.
* Schools are closed on both sides of the river. No date for reopening yet. Buses aren't available for students because they're being used for emergency purposes.
* By noon, they'll suspend sandbag-making.
* The focus is shifting to relocating medical cases and special needs back to the area. That will be done over 3 days probably starting at mid-week.
* A doctor again cautions that people need to maintain humor. "One of the things returning warriors talk about is the 'new normal,'" he said. "For those who don't get back to feeling normal, ask for help, talk among yourselves. It's a very good gauge for telling whether you're getting on track. The houses are not the family. Continue to work on the relationships."
It looks the river will fall below the Riverview Circle sandbags on Friday afternoon, a day earlier than predicted yesterday. I have had a touch of food poisoning (dinner, not from my friends in Moorhead!), and will try to hobble back to the neighborhood late this morning, check in with everyone and then if all is calm, probably head back to the cities. I plan on returning on the weekend.1 Comments)
If not quite normal, it was at least quiet on Riverview Circle in Moorhead today. John Brummer's stairs to his backyard continue to reappear. Inside the house, John is putting things away and preparing for a trip to Mississippi this weekend. His daughter is heading there for some additional National Guard training.
There was no answer at the Johnson house. If there's any justice at all, they're sleeping.
Donna Morse has gone off to work. "Fighting these things takes money," Adam Stewart says as he works in the garage. Donna's brother, Mike, is heading back to Colorado by a southern route to avoid the coming blizzard, which nobody seems that concerned about.
The Woodbury Fire Department -- my hometown crew -- arrived today and has been assigned these houses to monitor. As I talked to them, I learned more about the critical point at which this battle was won.
According to a Moorhead firefighter, it's the moment that I captured on video. This one:
(Update 4:05 pm Tues 3/31 - I just realized that in this video above, you'll see a firefighter in blue pointing and deploying other firefighters. He's the one who told the story to us.)
All of the firefighters were supposed to be going the same way the rest of us were. But as you can see, they refused to leave. "We heard a splash and saw the sandbags going," the firefighter said to me and the Woodbury crew. A metal rod, used to reinforce the dike, was bent over, triggering the possible calamity. I didn't realize at the time I was filming the exact spot where the wall was collapsing.
If you were listening to All Things Considered last Friday, you heard it happening, too.
When the breach was plugged about 1:30 a.m., he says he turned to his friend and acknowledged that maybe that wasn't such a smart thing to do. Maybe. Protocol and common sense says the firefighters shouldn't have stayed to fight. But they did. Because they did, 1,500 homes were saved.
For me, the most memorable moment, however, happened on Thursday, when the Morses, their family, some neighbors, and friends were trying to reinforce the dike. I was passing sandbags when I dropped a sandbag, ruining the rhythm that a 'bucket brigade' requires. A moment later, I stumbled on the stumps of some bushes. "I'm not helping anybody at all, here," I said. "You're doing fine," someone else said.
Later in the day, over at John Brummer's house, a young teen was straining under the weight of lifting huge sandbags to begin the brigade. He'd just emptied a pickup truck full and now he was working on a pallet. His face contorted with pain with every bag. "Are you OK, kid?" someone said. "I'm good," the kid said.
The river is still up to the sandbags and still presents a threat, but residents are allowing themselves to relax and in some cases leaving home and going to work.
So this is a good time for me to leave work and go home. I'm bringing an autographed sandbag with me.
(I hope the neighborhood will post updates over the next few days in this spot. I'll try to keep this last post from scrolling off the page. Meanwhile, to read all of the dispatches from Riverview Circle, go here.)
Update 3:54 p.m. Tue. 3/31/09 - John Brummer has a message in the comments section below. I'm taking a few days off (it turns out I'm not as young as I used to be). When I stopped in to MPR on Monday evening, I did an interview with Tom Crann for All Things Considered. (Listen) I'll be back here in a few days.(9 Comments)