Four years ago, John Brummer and his wife Jeanie -- with the help of many friends and family -- saved their home on the banks of the Red River in south Moorhead. Just barely, but they saved it.
"At that time we were a couple feet lower," John said yesterday, standing in his since-fortified backyard. "And we would stand here and be eye level with the water. It was a pretty overwhelming experience, quite frankly, and awesome at the time."
In the following years, every one of the Brummers' neighbors on the river side of Riverview Circle took buyouts from the city and moved, as you can see.
This year, the Brummers stacked sandbags again. It wasn't anything like 2009 of course, as this year's crest prediction has been steadily lowered as the water rises. Then, family and friends worked for eight days straight to save the home. This year, it took three hours over the weekend to stack 3,000-4,000 sandbags.
That's what is necessary during the flood. In fall and winter, John spends "many hours" working on landscaping and snow removal to make the spring work easier. And in 2010, he and his wife took out their old deck and built a permanent flood wall to provide more protection. They even added on to their home.
A few questions came to mind, as he described all this to me.
First, why? Why not just take the city's buyout offer and move somewhere that causes a whole lot less headache?
"This yard, when the water is gone, is a great place for the kids to be. In the winter time, we have our own sliding hills. It's like having the lake country effect in our backyard," he told me. "We're spoiled in that way, but we're willing to work for it."
The nearest lake to Fargo is almost an hour away, so that's understandable. (That said, I won't be swimming in the Red River anytime soon.)
The family, which also includes Jeanie's 98-year-old mother, also says they would miss the wildlife. A wild turkey was just feet away as I was talking to John.
Second, at what point does all the work outweigh the luxury of living next to the river?
"Life goes on. As long as we can do this in a reasonable fashion and take the necessary precautions, I think we're OK. Once this is elevated a little more, can we put down 2-3 feet of sandbags every year? Yeah. Do we want to? No. ... That's just the cost of living here," he said.
Moorhead City Manager Michael Redlinger told MPR's Dan Gunderson yesterday that the Brummers' home doesn't pose much risk to the city during flood season because of infrastructure improvements -- mainly the sewer system. Previously, one homes' backed-up sewer could affect neighbors.
So what would spur the Brummers' to pack up and leave? Flood insurance. After Moorhead finishes building permanent levees, it will apply for FEMA certification that would lower flood insurance costs for the neighborhood (among other things).
"We don't want to be the last hole in the dike that would allow the city to be FEMA certified. If it does get to that point, we will reconsider. I wouldn't want to be the last person preventing that," John said.(0 Comments)
Long-time NewsCut readers probably know that there may be no neighborhood in America I have more fondness for than the Riverside Circle neighborhood of Moorhead, where I spent more than a week in 2009 covering the residents' fight against the flooding Red River.
I took this stitched-together panorama in the backyard of Donna and Todd Morse (sorry, iPeople, it's in Flash and you won't see it):
Some real heroes once stood on the site...
There's no flood this year, but it's a sadder scene in that spot today than it was back then.
The Morse family has taken the buyout offered to the people who put up such a fight in 2009 (and 2011).
Up and down the street, houses are on trailers, ready to go.
No doubt, there's a fair amount of heartbreak, but change happens, time moves on, and neighborhoods die.
"We will be the only house remaining on this side of the street," John Brummer said in an e-mail to me today. Neighbor Keith Miller took the photographs.
Posted at 5:06 PM on June 24, 2011
by Michael Olson
Filed under: Floods
AP: The Souris broke a more than 130-year-old record at noon when it measured 1,558.52 feet above sea level at the city's Broadway Bridge. That was about 9. 5 feet above flood stage and a half-foot higher than the record set in 1881.
Posted at 1:28 PM on March 22, 2010
by Bob Ingrassia
Filed under: Floods
The mighty Mississippi is living up to its name in St. Paul.
Water is flowing over sidewalks and into park areas on both sides of the river near downtown. Barricades are up on Shepard road, blocking access between Eagle Street and Highway 61.
On Monday, St. Paul officials closed the parks on Harriet and Raspberry islands.
The water level surpassed 17 feet 6 inches this morning and was still on the rise. Forecasters are projecting a crest in St. Paul of 19 feet 6 inches on Thursday.
The high water is a curiosity for many and a nuisance for some. Office workers, dog walkers and joggers checked out the river Monday morning, some with cameras in hand. A few police cars and city maintenance vehicles cruised Harriet Island.
Several walkways, stairwells and boardwalks are under water. The great lawn on Harriet Island is flooded, with geese and ducks making themselves right at home in the water.
Access points to Raspberry and Harriet islands are blocked. Crews have tied sandbags to garbage cans so they won't flow away as the river rises.
The flood has been fun -- so far -- for Dennis Asmussen, who lives on a houseboat on the river across from downtown St. Paul. He's been canoeing on the rushing water.
But there have been challenges. The marina's power got knocked out Sunday night, so those who haven't fired up their generators have been a bit chilly. But his boat and the others, along with the docks to which they are tied, will rise with the water level.
Asmussen describes living through -- and on -- his first Mississippi River flood.
The St. Croix River also is running high. The Stillwater Lift Bridge remains open for now, but officials with the Minnesota Department of Transportation say flooding may force its closure at some point.
Minnesota Department of Transportation spokesman Kevin Gutknecht said the department is keeping a close eye on the rising water around the clock.
Posted at 1:56 PM on June 24, 2009
by Than Tibbetts
Filed under: Floods
A spate of spring storms left the Red River Valley with swollen creeks and streams over the past week. Eventually, all that water must pour into the Red River and head north to Canada. The photo above was taken yesterday on the north end of the Island Park Levee in Fargo. Instead of a lake, you should see a parking lot and running trails in the foreground.
From approximately the same vantage point (and height of the river), the Red River looked like this back on March 24th:
The rapid rise in the river underscores the basic problem residents in the area will always have with flooding: the flat landscape. The flood gauge in Hickson, just upstream from Fargo-Moorhead, illustrates this point. It takes a lot longer for water to flow out of the Valley than to accumulate in it.
issued on 4/7
|Tue 4/21|| |
This update from Riverview Circle in Moorhead by way of Donna Morse:
Wanted to give you a bit of an update as to what is happening here since you left...
The water continue to go down and it is now off of our sandbag walls. Todd has pulled the pumps that were pumping the water from behind the sandbags back into the river. It's still really quite around here and very little traffic. Occasionally we see an military, police, city, or fire vehicle pass, yet other than that, traffic is next to none. They have lifted the evacuation ban on this area this morning so I'm sure we will begin to see more movement. Sad to say, I heard this morning that there were looters in this area last night. Guess they didn't get away with anything and are being tracked down. Was hoping we weren't going to see any of that, yet if it's limited to this once that will be great!
Other than that, we continue to keep the basement dry. Coming home from work on Monday, I found that Todd couldn't take the mess any longer and had the kitchen and living room back to somewhat normal. He even got the garage cleaned up enough for the car to be put in. We are both hoping to get back to a routine. I started cleaning and wiping things down...can only take dirty for so long...guess it's 2 weeks!
Again, thanks for covering our story, Bob. I truly appreciated working with you and having a documented piece of history is a great bonus. Please make sure to come back for a visit (or move here). ..I know the Brummers and Johnson's feel the same. You are a great reporter and truly brought our story to life for so many that read it. Those that meet you and work with you are blessed for it!
Hugs to you...Donna
Meanwhile, John Brummer reported (yesterday, but I missed the email because I was out) that the water is off his sandbags now, too. He celebrated with his granddaughter, Addie.
NASA's Earth Observatory has released an image of the swollen Red River taken on March 28th when the river was at its record crest of 40.82 feet.
Head over to the Earth Observatory site where they have a 5 MB high-res version of the photo.
A second image shows you just what would happen if the levees and dikes weren't in place in Fargo-Moorhead. Beyond the city limits, the river is blown out well beyond its banks.
You really get a sense of how vast and flat the landscape is on either side of the river.(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)
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)
There is no high drama to tell you about on Riverview Circle today. People are sitting in garages with "hot dish" and BBQ and coffee and beer -- as the Johnsons were doing at lunchtime, or standing in driveways at the Brummer household, or in the backyard kicking ice and shooting the breeze at the Morse home.
The Brummer's railing on the stairs down to what once was -- and will soon be again -- their backyard, has reappeared.
An Excelsior firefighter, walking the dike, stopped to chat with Todd Morse and I awhile ago. He's been here since Friday, staying at the high school, but mostly has been out in these neighborhoods. About three dozen firefighters from Carver County are here and most are going back tonight. Why? He has to go back to work tomorrow.
That's the thing with the sacrifices many of the out-of-town volunteers; they've got real jobs to get back to on Monday. For this guy, it'll be a long drive back, and a short night's sleep.
I'm hearing more of that from residents now -- talk of work and real life resuming.
Today, from what I hear, a resident from up the road took a kayak down the river. Three Coast Guard Sea Fury helicopters made sure he got the message.
Meanwhile, the furniture has been taken off the counters at Todd and Donna Morse's house. It's true that anything can still go wrong, but the reality is that the amount of pressure the water has exerted on this sandbag wall is markedly reduced.
The face of the neighborhood doesn't tell the story of this week as well as the hands of the neighborhood. John's are raw from 8 days of near-steady work.
Others have rings of Band Aids, the wounds of a battle nearly won. My hands are embarrassingly healthy.
I won't be the one to jinx things by saying the 'flood is over,' because it certainly isn't. But barring unforeseen events overnight, by tomorrow evening, I'll probably be making the trip home, too.
Somewhere in the Morse house, there's a bottle of champagne that will get opened when the water drops below 37 feet. The latest river projection suggests that will be sometime between 1 and 2 o'clock next Saturday afternoon.4 Comments)
Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker today urged people to keep their humor to keep the stress down. They didn't have to tell John Brummer and his son, Danny, this morning. John was unfazed by the obvious water hazard that's appeared in the last week in their Moorhead neighborhood.
Sunday has brought a sense of relief to Riverview Circle, but not a sense of victory. Not quite yet anyway, or at least not to the extent where people seem willing to jinx their improving fortunes by exhaling.
The water flowing into the street has slowed remarkably. Compare the amount coming out of the pump hose with previous pictures (also note the dark ring on the trees showing the dropping water level).
But that's not entirely good news. The slower flow means it's hitting the bottom of the dike and potentially creating a weak spot. With help from Moorhead firefighters, firefighters from other cities, the Morses next door, and the Brummer family, a solution is devised.
Adam Stewart places a ladder out in the river, and landscape lumber is used to hold the hose farther out.
With that done, the neighbors, family, and firefighters haul sandbags -- many of which are unfortunately frozen -- to reinforce the dike. The best weapon the Red River Valley has against the flood has been its own ingenuity.
Out front, reunions are taking place. Donna Morse hasn't seen, John Brummer's wife, Jeanie, since all of this started.
Bruce Johnson stopped over for an update from the Morses.
Bruce left shortly thereafter. "I have to go check a pump," he said.
And other neighbors are emerging to catch up on one another's status.
I stopped over to the Johnsons first today. I had intended to bring doughnuts to all three families, but the stores are mostly out. The Johnsons got my meager offerings today. Vikki's parents have arrived today, the basement is still dry, and they were able to get some sleep.
The neighborhood is still very quiet.The one portable toilet on the street has been removed. "That's a good thing," Vikki says. It means someone -- somewhere -- thinks the sewage and water system will hold up.
Firefighters are walking the street in groups, as other fire vehicles -- I saw one from Savage awhile ago -- drive the riverfront. They've worked incredibly hard. And deserve a break and a check-in to see how their own families are faring.
Nobody thinks this fight is over. But a few moments of humor, an occasional bit of relaxation, and the well-timed visit from a neighbor is an account from which the Riverview Circle folks can withdraw when and if the river makes its next move.
Update 1:44 p.m. - The latest river projection is very encouraging. The level was expected to go up today, now it's projected to go straight down.
At the current level, this side of the street may be out of danger by next Saturday. The river may drop much faster than expected earlier today.
(Please note: I know a lot of folks are coming to this blog for the first time. Our navigation isn't very good for following a single-theme over many days. So if you'd like to follow all of the flood posts, go here. Start at the bottom and work your way up. And thanks for stopping by!)(2 Comments)
At a news conference, Mayor Dennis Walaker says "we are different here in the valley," and says evacuations are not automatic and they will not give up neighborhoods. The CEO of the school, Bruce Messelt says one of the school's dike patrols found the leakage in the school's permanent flood walls. The wall was constructed after the 1997 flood and is built of steel. The water came from underground and not from the wall itself.
(This shows why these seemingly small leaks are so worrisome to people here.)
The buildings are below the river at this point and basements and the first floors are filled, including at a performing arts hall and a gym. "Our buildings can be rebuilt, our students can recover, but God's faithfulness will never be questioned," he said.
(I'm trying to figure out a way of visually showing the changing projections)
"Thank you for that example," Mayor Dennis Walaker of Fargo said sarcastically, obviously a hurting Fighting Sioux fan.
"Thank you for sharing that story," Walaker said. Apparently he's a fan of the rival (and Fargo-based) North Dakota State University.
Maybe he heard Dale Connelly's Radio Heartland last night. The show started with Mavis Staples singing "We will not be moved."
My plan today: I'm heading, again, to Riverview Circle. I've been staying in Rothsay for the last few nights. Roger, who runs the Comfort Zone Inn, provides excellent Ole and Lena jokes. We need more Ole and Lena jokes right around now.
But it takes awhile for me to get back in the area, and I usually have to stop and restock some of my provisions, and then it takes me a fair amount of time to quickly check how everyone's doing, and write a post. So I apologize in advance that it may be a few hours until I get to post the next update, but let's just assume no news is good news.6 Comments)
(Update 9:44 p.m - I've embedded some video below)
When you're in the "maintenance" portion of a flood, you have periods of relative calm punctuated by panic. Within the last few hours, we've had two such panic periods, both coming at the same time.
Seepage got pretty severe at one point of John Brummer's dike. But there was no immediate help. Moorhead shut down the volunteer center, and the city doesn't need any more, and we're told there are plenty of sandbags somewhere. But not here.
John's wife, Jeanie, ran down the street looking for help. Fortunately, the Ramsey County Sheriff's Department was there. They came running...
So did several SUVs of firefighters from Moorhead and cities as far away as Roseville.
And so did the Morses and other neighbors. This is John's wife leading the charge..
John had one pallet of sandbags in the driveway, but they were frozen. A frozen sandbag does you no good.
A second problem was going on in John's basement. A drain has stubbornly refused to be plugged, and two ShopVacs weren't keeping up. So Ed Dorsett and I headed to Fargo for drain plugs.
Go into any store here and boots, drain plugs, bottled water, and sump pumps are lined at the front. A clerk at Lowe's said they hadn't stocked up on drain plugs and were short until a day or so ago.
When we returned, an hour later, a third problem had broken out. That leak in the next-door neighbor's house -- the one John was talking about with the National Guard earlier today (see previous post) -- had alarmed fire officials. And they ran to the area. A flatbed brought the sandbags, and the fork life operator (this guy is another of the unsung heroes of this street) was bringing them off as fast as the firefighters could stack them.
After two hours of furious work, the flow was slowed, and a sump pump was keeping up with things. A Moorhead firefighter adjusted it and headed for the next emergency, leaving Riverview Circle empty.
Down at Bruce and Vikki Johnson's house, things have been moved out of the basement. The front step features a freezer (or refrigerator) and a suitcase...
Bruce is concerned about a big leak at the corner of this peninsula, so we walk down to take a look, and it's coming in faster than it's leaving. Water has poured in the back windows of a nearby house.
(If the video above doesn't play, go here.)
This, as it would turn out later, would be the next moment of high drama for the combined fire departments and law enforcement people.
Meanwhile, up at Highway 75, the "contingency dike" that threatened to ring in the neighborhood never developed into much. While some Minnesota State Troopers stopped vehicles, by late afternoon, the neighborhood was wide open, if empty.
Someone asked for pictures of the houses down the street where the emergency dikes were built yesterday. This is where everyone was running to in that video I posted yesterday during an evacuation.
The sun is setting over a Red River that's lost ground today. But the night watch has begun, and the threat is far from over.
Not more than 20 feet from the hot tub at the home of Donna and Todd Morse, son Hoss is taking a well-earned break. He's been the overnight guard of the dike that's keeping the Red River from this neighborhood. Last night, he and the family built the dike up nearly another foot. He'll be back on duty tonight.
The river level is dropping and much of the attention in the neighborhood today is inside. Drains in basements are giving the Red a way in, but the neighbors are ready.
Next door at the Brummer house, a St. Paul heavy equipment operator, Matthew Siede, is vacuuming up the water as it comes up through a sandbagged drain. Matthew went to the FargoDome -- Sandbag Central -- but they've got all the heavy equipment operators they can use. Here, a filled ShopVac, qualifies as heavy equipment.
At the Morse house, they've discovered a drain under a cabinet has been the source of some flooding. Donna's brother, Mike, and family friends and relatives have moved sandbags inside to direct it to a still-working sump pump.
That's the thing with this river. It wants into this neighborhood, if not through the dikes, then up through the drains. As this photo from the Brummer household shows, any possible way into the house, has to be considered a threat:
John Brummer's wife, Jeanie, is making cookies. The Salvation Army has just delivered sandwiches, water, coffee and hot chocolate. I talked with one volunteer from Fergus Falls. She's been here since Sunday.
John Brummer is trying to convince someone, anyone, to pay some attention to a stream that's coming from under the dike on the far property line. His son, wearing a black T-shirt on this cold day, is constantly walking the dike, looking for trouble.
A couple of Army National Guard soldiers, down from Crookston, are walking the dike and offer a sympathetic ear but make clear that carrying sandbags isn't their current mission.
At the Johnson home across the way, Bruce says he's concerned about the dikes on this side of the peninsula. Over on this side, Todd Morse says he's concerned about the ones over there.
It's a gloriously sunny day in Moorhead. Water is dripping from the snow melting on the roof. Every drop of melted snow is a threat.
Out back of Riverview Circle, ice flows -- a big concern -- occasionally hit-- and smash-- small branches sticking out of the water; they're connected to big trees underneath.
The stick I've been using to measure the river, is now floating on top of it.
Yesterday, I used the stick to show the river wasn't going up. But it turns out it was actually frozen in the ice, and the ice was rising.
But the ice rings around the trees are telling a better story than all the equipment at the weather service, or my stick: the river is dropping.
It's relatively quiet in the neighborhood, except for the pump that's been throwing water back at the Red, and the occasional National Guard, Border Patrol, or TV news helicopter, none of whom are seeing -- accurately -- how it is the flood of any century is being frustrated by a small army of people who are pausing to take a breath, and getting ready for the river's next assault.
The tide may have turned. And the people of Riverview Circle -- the ones who are still here -- are growing more confident, that they'll beat the flood.
So far, they are.(2 Comments)
I'm back in Riverview Circle, riding in a pickup over very icy and rutty roads. I'm riding with Ed Dorsett of Moorhead, who goes to the same church as Todd and Donna Morse. We're heading to the store to get some ShopVacs and a marine plug. The plug is for John Brummer's boat, which he's preparing, just in case.
The neighborhood is about to be mostly cut off. They're building a dike along Highway 75. We understand one road will be kept open for now,
We've just passed rows and rows of fire trucks from out of the area -- Roseville, Grand Lake, Elko, for example.
Things are quiet in the neighborhood.
I checked in with Vikki and Bruce Johnson. Their dog is back home with them and they were able to get a little sleep last night. That look in Bruce's eyes captured in a post downstream, is still there today. He's concerned about the dike down at the Brummer and Morse side of the street, and one downstream from their home.
"I hope you're able to stand there (in the hall) two days from now," he said.
Indications are I will. Todd Morse, who's sitting with an icepack on his knee ("I'm at least mobile," he said ) just showed me the river forecast which is a much brighter picture than even 6 this morning. The crest will -- if they're right -- not last as long and be lower than expected.
Snow is due tomorrow.(4 Comments)
From the safety of Rothsay, I'm watching the daily flood meeting in Fargo
8:04 a.m. - A lot more emotion at the meeting this morning. "The eyes of the nation are upon you. People can still make a difference in this country with their attitude and hard work. We can win it. We will win it. And it's because of the extraordinary people in the community. Go get 'em!" Sen. Kent Conrad said (at least I think it was Kent Conrad; it was hard for me to tell.)
8:07 a.m. - Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker apologized to Greg Gust and the National Weather Service for criticism he's leveled over flood predictions, especially over the projections on the Wild Rice River.
Gust says for the next week, the river could be "bouncing a few inches either side of 41 feet." That sounds like a lowering of the projection. But he says "a little ice in the wrong place," could change things significantly.
Snow and wind are possible in future days, but it won't affect the river. "But the wind is the factor," he said.
8:11 a.m. - Tim Bertschi of the Army Corps of Engineers, says "folks will see less contractors working but you'll see them working through the week." Says most of the levees will be completed today.
"It's not over yet," Walaker says.
"It's not even halftime, yet," Bertschi responds.
8:17 a.m. - Pat Zavoral, the city administrator, says people in Fargo should call the city engineering department if they see a leak. "Unless it's an absolute gusher," he says. National Guard is patrolling the levees in NoDak. That's not the case in the Moorhead area I've been in. The Moorhead Fire Department, and many other fire departments, are in charge. The Guard has a different mission, apparently, and is on standby in their trucks and Humvees around the neighborhood.
8:20 a.m. - Travel ban on most Fargo streets (University Drive, for example) has been lifted.
8:22 a.m. - Mark Bittner, city engineer, speaks about the 'architecture of sandbag dikes.' "Sandbag dikes are built to leak. Expect to have some leakage. If it's just trickling out, just keep pumping. If it's leaking too bad, we'll support you with additional pumps." In Moorhead yesterday, people were burning out sump pumps pretty quickly.
Adide - If you haven't seen Donna Morse's photos of the advancing Red in her back yard last week, please go here. I hadn't had a chance to see what their backyard normally looks like until late last night. It's unbelievable.
8:26 a.m. - Zavoral said they had to dispel a rumor yesterday that they were issuing a mandatory evacuation. Gen. Dave Sprynczynatyk of the NoDak National Guard says thee are 1,850 Guard members on the Fargo side.
On the Minnesota side, MPR's Tim Nelson just sent along this:
The Minnesota National Guard is activating yet more soldiers to aid in the flood fighting efforts in the Red River Valley. The Guard said late last night it was sending 50 soldiers from the Duluth-based 1st Squadron, 94th Cavalry to Camp Ripley to prepare for duty in Moorhead this weekend. They join nearly 500 members of the Minnesota Guard's Moorhead-based 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 136th that were activated last week. The calvary unit is the fourth to report for flood duty. The St. Paul-based 133rd Airlift Wing and Duluth-based 148th Fighter Wing are on the scene with high-tech communications trailers to provide emergency phone, radio and data communications if regular systems are knocked out or shut down.
8:33 a.m. - "Significant challenges" finding places for people with health issues who need evacuation. All the nursing homes are filled. "Where's my mother?" Mayor Walaker asks.
8:35 a.m. - No plans to disconnect any electrical grids, the utility company says. Xcel official says things are going well.
8:46 a.m. - "We do a mandatory evacuation, you better get out of that area," City Commisisoner Tim Mahoney says.
8:47 a.m. "The focus has been on Fargo. The focus has been Moorhead. We are the focus of all the press, but we can't forget about the other areas," Walaker said. "Our concerns go out to those people to whom we can't provide services. We try to treat everyone the same. Our response is to our city."
9:27 a.m. - Heading back to Moorhead. I'll post a quick update when I get there.(5 Comments)
Flood fatigue. It's been only one week since Moorhead residents like Vikki and Bruce Johnson of Riverview Circle first learned they had to start preparing for the worst. That's two fewer weeks than they had in 1997. You may recall earlier in the week, Bruce said that when they were out sandbagging last Saturday, the river was so far away they wondered why they were out there.
Photographer Jeff Thompson took this picture Friday morning and I think it captures everybody and everything pretty well.
I was relieved to hear from Vikki (in comments in the thread upstream) this evening:
Hey Bob, Bruce and I are fine. Bruce stayed behind when we evacuated earlier today. I went back home around 8 tonight. Our dike is strong and our pumps are working. Brian Cole, Moorhead Orchestra teacher is manning our pumps so Bruce can sleep! Another one of those theatre guys to the rescue! The battle is not over - the river has not won! We will continue to fight on!
Vikki and I talked earlier today. I encourage you to listen. Listen
A few minutes later, Donna and Todd Morse were planning their strategy for the day.
When the big equipment isn't moving, the volunteers aren't around, and when the sun goes down, I imagine it can get pretty lonely. So reader Jeff Olsen's picture tonight provides a good reminder that plenty of people are still sending help.
Shortly after the evacuation, I was on All Things Considered. (Listen)
Driving over to Rothsay (the only motel I could find a room available), I saw three empty buses from the Twin Cities, a lot flatbed trucks, and some construction equipment heading toward Fargo-Moorhead.
The sun was out Friday although it was cold. There were many more helicopters and airplanes in the sky today, one of them was a Civil Air Patrol damage assessment flight (turn down your speakers) :
The latest projection for a crest looks like this (See updates here)
The crest stays through April Fool's Day.
It looks like I'll be back up on Riverview Circle later on Saturday morning. It may be the last day I'll be in the area. I've got to restock and then return. These people can take a punch. And they can throw one.
Until I get back up there, I hope family members will continue to post updates below. Vikki, Bruce, Todd, Donna, John and Jeanie and their families have a lot of friends they've never met.1 Comments)
If the message above says "this video is no longer available, go here.
I was helping John Brummer set up a sump pump behind his sandbag dike when we heard sirens. "That's not good," he said.
"It must be just sandbags," I said, because the police had been escorting flatbeds full of sandbags earlier this week.
"Dad, we've got to go; mom's grabbing her purse," her son said. And John didn't wait, running for the car. I headed to the Morses who were already heading for their SUV, Todd going back inside to get a critical piece of equipment: my laptop.
A levee had broken -- or was intending to -- up the street, we were told (Note: We don't know that this is the case, we only know what we were told) . I headed in that direction. Volunteers and residents were streaming out. Firefighters were streaming in.
Up near Highway 75, more sirens. State troopers and local police escorted more flatbeds of sandbags in.
Just minutes before that, things seemed to be going well, despite some obvious hardships, one of which is the lack of pumps. Sump pumps would burn out quickly. Water started coming into the basement of Todd and Donna Morse's house. This gentleman in the black is a mechanic who worked all day practically rebuilding this pump.
But when it was hooked up and started, it immediately blew a seal. There was no time to try to open it up again, so Todd and his family and friends tried to minimize the damage and pump out what could be pumped out.
Update 9:44 p.m. As you can tell from the comments below (family members, please keep the updates coming!), the problem has been repaired and the people are still at it. I've found a motel in Rothsay and I hope to return on Saturday.
Photographer Jeff Thompson, just sent this picture from Fargo, and says it's "spooky quiet" there.
9:48 p.m. - Vikki Johnson has checked in (comments below) and reports she and Bruce are fine.(18 Comments)
Left for dead this morning, Riverview Circle is coming to life. Down the street they're building sandbag dikes around the front of several houses, whose dikes in the back yard are in peril. That means truckloads of sandbags are heading back in to the neighborhood for the fight.
And -- even more encouraging -- volunteers are being allowed in:
Next door, John Brummer is feeling better. With the sandbags being brought in, and an obviously high-ranking fire department official intervening, a pallet-load of bags has stemmed the flow from the uncovered city drain. There's hope.
The man nearest the camera, by the way, is one of the unsung heroes of Riverview Circle. I know him only as "Dean from the fire department." He's been here with these few houses every day and every moment since the dike work started. He can make things happen, and he has.
Here is the problem they've been dealing with over at John's. The storm drains run from the street, though John's driveway and into the river. There's a "check valve" installed that prevents water from coming back through the storm drain system when the river comes calling. But the valve is located between the street and this manhole cover, not between the manhole cover and the river.
Why did they do it that way? "We didn't think the river would get this high," one of the firemen speculated.
Todd Morse came in a few minutes ago, long enough to check everyone's favorite Web page, the hydrology report.
"They're still projecting 42 feet," he said. I couldn't tell whether he was encouraged or disappointed by that. I checked the measurement outside a half hour ago. The river has not gone up at all today; but it hasn't gone down either.
"I'll take that," Adam Stewart said to me. "Thank God it's cold." And it is. The water that's getting through -- by whatever means -- is freezing fairly quickly. But the sun is out, the volunteers are coming , the heavy equipment is moving, and the sense is that all is not lost.
By the way, we are all very cheered by your best wishes. Chad, commenting upthread, said he felt like a jerk sitting in his cubicle. I know what you mean. Every now and again, I come in from sandbagging or trying to help out in order to post, and I feel guilty that I'm inside and everyone's outside working. But these people -- the Johnsons, the Brummers, and the Morses -- have been entirely gracious allowing me to intrude, and they'd be last the people to tell you you're a jerk for being in a cubicle, and doing what you can to help -- even if it's just sending best wishes and good thoughts.8 Comments)
That river of water that's pouring out of John Brummer's driveway, and threatening Riverview Circle in Moorhead is not coming from the sandbag dikes that he and the neighbors have been building since last Saturday.
It's coming from a storm drain the city put in after the flood of '97, and he's waiting for the city to come and cap it. He's been waiting a long time.
Meanwhile, up the Circle a few houses, the city is building a dike in front of houses quickly. They're being sacrificed for the good of the city that has scurried to what passes for higher ground in these parts.
Here in the Morse household, people munched on pizza while watching the news conference out of Fargo. Gov. Pawlenty, Sen. Klobuchar, and Rep. Peterson are on the TV now, but there's nobody here watching. They're back outside and have rejoined the battle.10 Comments)
The three families who stayed behind to fight the Red River in the southern Moorhead, Minnesota neighborhood of Riverview Circle, are mostly on their own. Some firefighters with the Moorhead and Callahan Fire Departments are with them.
But up at the sandbagging station outside the Johnson's home, the "volunteers" now are all family members of Todd and Donna Morse and John Brummer next door. A family friend who works for the Morses, Adam Stewart, is loading sandbags into a truck. "Yesterday my wife was teaching college boys how to make sandbags," he said, adding, "God, I love that woman!"
The concern is a trickle-turned-river from
the dike a storm drain that's growing. There's tremendous pressure on these sandbags right now and Todd and his relatives and friends are throwing sandbags into the water, entrapped by a black tarp.
The stench of mineral spirits permeates the Morse house. A pump with bad gas isn't working and the carburetor is being cleaned to try to coax it back to a useful life.
John Brummer has sandbagged around his house. His son his here and his daughter, a member of the Air National Guard, has arrived, but I overheard a Moorhead firefighter say, "that's an awful lot of water to be coming from a dike." (As it turned out, it's not coming from the dike.) Abut a half hour later, I also overheard him report to another fire official, "we think we're getting ahead of it out at the street where a city pump has been hurling water back at the Red for the last four hours. He added, however, "if we don't get this fixed....we could be in trouble."
After Mark Seeley's appearance on Midday, I called him and asked him to talk to John and from I understand, there was some encouragement that at least as far as water levels beyond the dike, it's not getting noticeably worse. Beyond that, much of the information you're hearing on MPR and reading on the Web site, isn't getting through here; there's no time to listen to the radio.
In that way, perhaps, Riverview Circle is cut off in more ways than one. Occasionally, I duck inside to file a blog update or video, and feel guilty that I'm not back outside helping. I check the comments and find messages from around the country for these three families -- and the Red River Valley at large -- and their eyes brighten when I relay them.
If clinging to hope and three families' refusing to quit is all it took to beat back a flood, the Red River would be a punch-drunk loser.
But it takes more. The unanswered question, however, is how much more?
(To see all of the flood posts, go here)
I'm in the Morses' house, we're getting water behind the dike now. Next door at John's house, there's a small group trying to make sandbags, lots of water coming through there. No volunteers, sandbags or sand being allowed in the neighborhood. I'll go over there to help out as soon as I finish this post.
An ice ring has formed around a tree out back here...indicating that the water MAY actually be going down.
Lots of people -- well, what few people are here -- are upset that the city/county gave up on this neighborhood. "We had this thing licked," Todd Morse's father said to me a few minutes ago.
There was a pump that the city dropped off earlier this week to be used to pump water behind the dikes. But it wasn't being used. Todd told them to pump out the water from the street where it's getting deeper and icing over (Memo to self: Move my car!).
"You're worried about water in the street?" one cop said. But of course this is the way the river works in this area, the flood comes from behind you when you're looking at what's out beyond the dikes.
Here are the pictures Donna gave me to upload. Her brother, by the way, has just pulled in. He drove all night from Colorado Springs.
Here are Donna's pictures going back to last weekend:7 Comments)
I'm probably going to be doing quick posts today, so forgive me if they don't all make sense.
I stopped by Vikki and Bruce Johnson's this morning. They're still here but are prepared to leave if need be. "The neighborhood is quiet," Vikki said. I've got an interview with her and I'll try to post it soon. Bruce will be on Midday this morning with Gary Eichten. They've been getting calls from the media today, who apparently picked up their story via News Cut. So I apologized for that.
I'm currently in the kitchen of Todd and Donna Morse. The fire department is out back looking at the dike. Their son and his wife, where they stayed last night, have shown up to help sort things and it's been difficult for them.
Donna has given me 142 pictures she's been taking so that I can resize them and get them posted for her -- and you -- so their relatives from other places can follow them.
John Brummer is back working this morning although I haven't been over yet, other than to check out a steady stream that's coming down the driveway.
The National Guard is in the area. I'm told that Hoss asked them for a pump and some help with a weak spot. "That's not our mission," came the reply. And, of course, it's not. They're here to get people out.(4 Comments)
Most people appear to have left. I stopped back in at John Brummer's house and, indeed, they're all gone. Water streaming down the driveway and into the street. By way of comments, I've learned that Vikki and Bruce Johnson are still there, so I'll try to stop by.
Note the quiet.3 Comments)
I made it onto Riverview Circle a little bit before sunrise. The police roadblocks were gone. The sandbag stations were abandoned. There were no giant piles of sand, signifying that everything the city brought, the residents used. And still, it wasn't enough.
The National Guard humvees have been replaced by troop trucks, indicative that there are still more people that need to get out.
At the Morse's house, son "Hoss" was trying to warm up. Hie was in bare feet with his pants rolled up, his waders were wet from trying to help a neighbor whose basement was being overtaken by the Red River, which had found its way in through a drain. The sump pumps burned out trying to save it.
Everyone out at the Morse house was gone. I told him I was sorry for what his family was going through, he smiled -- as everyone has this week -- and said "what are you going to do."
This neighborhood, and this city, which is getting far too little recognition as the media makes its mad dash to Fargo, did in five days, what it took three weeks to do in 1997, and they've done it better, and they've made the dikes higher.
I think a lot of people though that if it all went south, it would do so with water flowing over the top of a dike, and people still trying to stop it. But it didn't end that way.
The street outside John Brummer's house has about a half foot of water on it, again from the drains. Hoss says John evacuated last night, but I have not been able to confirm that.
Over at Bruce and Vikki Peterson's house, a light burned in a front room, and I think I saw Vikki at a computer, but I couldn't tell for sure, I stepped in water outside their house and water poured into the last pair of dry boots I had. Compared to Riverview Circle, I've got it good.
Update 7:38 a.m. - Now that the sun is (almost) up, I stopped by John Brummer's house.
Water is streaming down the driveway. Nobody is home. Only the sound of birds punctuates the neighborhood. A pallet of sandbags still sits in the driveway. They never made it to the wall.(5 Comments)
I'm sorry I haven't had a chance to post this before. But this Googlemaps view gives you a better idea of what Riverview Circle has been battling. Click for a larger view. The pushpin is 3521 Riverview, the home of the Morses. John Brummer's house is just above that, and Bruce and Vikki Anderson's is in the cul de sac across the street. You can even see the swimming pool in the Morse's backyard, that has been well documented on the News Cut site below.
The water is right up to the backyards now and you can see why there's been an evacuation. As soon as there's a breach, the Red River is going to try to run straight, rather than around the neighborhood, and it's going to cut almost directly through the Morses' property, over to the Johnson's and then back to its normal route toward downtown Fargo.
And here's the houses in better times -- Morses on the left, John Brummer's on the right.
I'm not sure when I'll be posting again. I have a cellphone modem and I'll be living out of the car for a few hours while I try to figure out where to go. Apologies in advance if things aren't quite as detailed as they've been the last few days. I'll be on with Cathy Wurzer on Morning Edition this morning.3 Comments)
MPR's Ambar Espinoza sent this picture along late last night. A trickle of flood victims has started showing up at a Red Cross shelter at Moorhead High School. More will start showing up today.
It's ironic, actually, that Moorhead has been the community where the neighborhoods are being swallowed up first, because it's also the one that is universally ignored in most of the flood coverage. Fargo is bigger, lower, and has all of the news media. The fight is still going on there and it will, no doubt, be well documented.
Maybe they'll have better luck than the people of Moorhead.2 Comments)
A little before 8 tonight, the word came. An evacuation of this neighborhood -- including the motel where I've been staying -- is now mandatory. The fight is over. We're now flood refugees. Since I'd already written a lengthy piece, I'll post it as written.
There is the message we got:
As of 3:00 PM today, the National Weather Service issued a revised forecast that the Red River will crest at 42 feet on Saturday, March 28th. Based upon this prediction, the City of Moorhead local Law Enforcement officials direct that ALL residents within the area South of I-94 and West of 8th Street evacuate the area immediately.
Please seek shelter with family or friends outside of the flood zone to conserve emergency resources. A Red Cross public shelter is available at Moorhead High School, 2300 4th Avenue South.
Bring your identification and a 7 - 10 day supply of medications.
Bring baby supplies if you have an infant.
Pets will NOT be accepted at the Red Cross shelter. Animal shelter may be available at the Doggy Depot (3224 8th Street South, 218-236-DOGS) and the Mutt Hut (1214 Main Avenue, 218-236-9935). Call ahead; please bring your animal's food and health records. Pet shelter space is extremely limited, so please try to make accommodations with family or friends outside of the flood zone.
Once you are at a safe location, call 218-477-4747 to register your home's address and temporary location so emergency personnel and your family and friends can know you are safe and how to reach you.
If you need assistance with relocation, please call the relocation hotline 218-477-4747.
If your family needs special assistance with relocation, you may also contact the Clay County Emergency Operations Center at 299-7768.
(Here's my conversation with MPR's Tom Crann on All Things Considered tonight. Listen)
Nobody was giving up on Riverview Circle, but they're not ignoring reality, either. There were a fair number of people biting their lips late on Thursday as word spread that the new crest projection suggests a 43 foot crest. That sent homeowners to the backyard to look -- again -- at the Red River from behind their sandbag fortresses -- fortresses that they've worked again to raise to ... 43 feet.
Todd and Donna Morse have a Plan B.
The smaller of their vehicles has been parked at their church on higher ground. The larger one is ready to be filled, if need be. The younger kids have been sent off with relatives. The family pictures are being sent out this evening. Their son, "Hoss", who spent the day seemingly holding the Red River off singlehandedly, will be back tonight to keep an eye on the sandbags.
Here's what he'll see:
Compare it to Wednesday:
Meanwhile, next door at John Brummer's house, a bucket brigade is still at work moving sandbags to a low spot where his sandbag dike meets the neighbor on the far side.
"Seepage" is occurring because the water has now reached the sandbags. They're frozen and won't fill in any gaps the water eats away.
This trickle doesn't seem like much...
But it is. Down the street, Moorhead firefighters have found a poorly constructed sandbag wall, and are rushing sandbags in. If there's a weakness in this neighborhood, that may be it. There's also rumors that there are icebergs in the river and if one hits a sandbag, the show is over. These are things that are keeping Riverview Circle up at night.
Here's the view at John Brummer's back door:
By the way, I've been passing along your best wishes and they obviously are too busy to jump online and read them now, but they will.
Update 9:23 p.m. The motel bar is full (the motel is just around the corner from the neighborhood and is in the evacuation zone). I'm guessing if people leave, it won't be until tomorrow.
Update 9:31 p.m. - We've been ordered out by 6 a.m..(5 Comments)
This is Riverview Circle's response to Moorhead's Code Red that indicates evacuations are likely. Another pickup with another load of sandbags has just pulled into John Brummer's garage and another crowd of volunteers has arrived to stack it on the sandbag dike that rings this neighborhood along three miles of shoreline.
I asked him if he has a plan if this effort fails and he says his house is a foot above the crest line. For the record, he's not thinking it won't work, of course. "We've given it the good fight," he said. And for the first time in three days, his smile waned and his humor gave way for a second. So he paused, clapped his hands twice, and headed out to the sandbags.
There's still work to be done.
Buses are still streaming into the neighborhood, but getting enough sandbags has been problematic all afternoon.
Throughout Moorhead this afternoon, police are escorting conveys as if they're in charge of the nation's money supply. In a way, they are. On Riverview Circle -- and most of the Red River Valley -- the only currency that matters today is a filled sandbag.
As a Code Red was issued this afternoon, signifying an evacuation is possible from Riverview Circle, and the surrounding neighborhoods, the Morses and John Brummer were not giving up.
After uploading the video, I'm heading back into the neighborhood. My motel is just around the corner. A note slipped under the door a few minutes ago announces "We're in Code Red. Please be prepared to evacuate at short notice."
I'm not leaving unless the Morses and Brummers do.(5 Comments)
The Red River can be very sneaky. This is what's happening now at 3521, the home of Todd and Donna Morse. Through the morning, they've been adding width to the sandbag dike in their backyard, the river is now touching the sandbag dike, but it's strong and well built.
We took a break for lunch, and then found that a drain along the edge of their swimming pool was the Red's way in. Now they're trying to get the drain covers off to plug the unexpected breach.
A Shop Vac is borrowed from John Brummer next door. Sump pumps are being deployed.
Without admitting defeat at the dike, their son "Hoss" orders sandbagging to begin around the door to the house.
"There'll be no happy pictures of us today," Donna says to me.
All of the attention is no longer on reinforcing the massive dike at 43 feet; it's on a 4 foot drain embedded in concrete.
Meanwhile, the river isn't waiting. Here's the view today.
Note that stick. It marks the expected crest at 41 feet:
I took that picture at 11 this morning. I took this one just 45 minutes later.
As the Morses and John Brummer work outside, they probably don't know that the city wants them to start thinking about getting out. They issued this alert:
There has been no breach to the dike system; however due to the significance of the flood threat, the City recommends you prepare to evacuate your home as this area is vulnerable to flooding. Take the following actions to prepare your home and evacuate to a location outside of the flood area:
Please seek shelter with family or friends outside of the flood zone to conserve semergency resources. A Red Cross public shelter will be available at 3:00 PM today at Moorhead High School, 2300 4th Avenue South.
Bring your identification and a 7 - 10 day supply of medications
Pets will NOT be accepted at the Red Cross shelter. Animal shelter may be available at the Doggy Depot (3224 8th Street South, 218-236-DOGS) and the Mutt Hut (1214 Main Avenue, 218-236-9935). Call ahead; please bring your animal's food and health records.
Pet shelter space is extremely limited, so please try to make accommodations with family or friends outside of the flood zone.
Before you evacuate, call 218-477-4747 to register your home's address and temporary location so emergency personnel and your family and friends can know you are safe and how to reach you.
If you need assistance with relocation, please call the relocation hotline 218-477-4747.
Prepare your property for dike failure/sewer failure as follows:
Plug all sewer drains including floor drains and sinks in lower levels
Shut water off (if you need assistance with water shut off, call 218-477-4747)
Leave electricity and natural gas services on
Up the block, none of the thousands of volunteers who have been bused in are ready to give the Red River the satisfaction:
Volunteers pick up sandbags in their trucks and haul them back to their backyards where volunteers seem to appear out of nowhere to form a chain to deliver them to the three-mile-long wall.
"Swing, don't drop," Hoss instructs the group of mostly rookie sandbaggers. During breaks, he asks his grandfather for another "chew" to provide his energy.
Then the saddest two words this week are shouted. "Last one."
The volunteers pause for a moment, then realize John may need help next door.
When there's no sandbags to throw, Donna's mother, Eileen, serves up soup in the garage with the enthusiasm that a good bowl of corned beef soup can stop a flood. She tells me the story of helping out in St. Peter after the tornado left the town devastated in the '90s.
The Red River isn't kidding around. But neither is Riverview Circle.(4 Comments)
The daily meeting of officials battling the Red River flood is underway in Fargo.
8:03 a.m. - Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker holds up a gift from his staff, a Moses-like staff, which he says he can use to part the water. Then saying, "we need all the help we can get," he asks an official from the Salvation Army to begin a prayer.
8:05 a.m. - The river is rising three feet a day. "We going to be at 40 tomorrow. I've used the term 'uncharted territory' because it's a learning curve for all of us." He says at a meeting last night the city was being criticized as unorganized. Not at all what I've seen.
8:08 a.m. - Mark Bittner, the Fargo city engineer, says they have "some concerns" that already have some seepage. They're going to start building "secondary levees." Efforts today will include further protecting the city water plant and the water treatment plant.
8:10 a.m. - 76th Avenue in Fargo will be closed today. Highway 81 will be closed between the Wild Rice river and the Maple Prairie subdivision.
8:13 a.m. - A warning that residents who "want to come out, have to come out during the day." The county sheriff says people who refused to be evacuated by boat yesterday called this morning at 1 or 2 "angry at us for not coming to get them."
8:17 a.m. - "We are not abandoning anybody," Walaker says to news of complaints that secondary dikes in neighborhoods are isolating them.
8:18 a.m. - Here's the 7:15 flood projection. It's not pretty.
8:19 a.m. - Tim Mahoney, Fargo city administrator: "I might get tears in my eyes like the mayor soon because the volunteers have been terrific. But, buck it up because you have to do it one more day."
8:20 a.m. - On Wednesday, another half million sand bags were produced by volunteers working on the Fargo side. The focus today is getting bags delivered as quickly as possible. "Anytime you see Bison basketball shirts standing next to Sioux Hockey shirts, we've really come together and that's a story that needs to be told," an official says.
By the way, you saw than Than Tibbetts great video, right? No? Here.
8:28 a.m. - Public safety officials are asking people not to drive directly to sandbag sites. Go to the sites where buses will take people there.
8:36 a.m. - Sara Lepp, the volunteer coordinator said people from Florida, Alaska, and Michigan have showed up to help. "It's not just Minnesota and North Dakota," she said.
8:38 a.m. - Steve Carbno of the Salvation Army says "we're going to be stretched thin today."
"Any time you see the Red Cross and the Salvation Army working hand in hand, that's a good thing," he said. Hmmm.
"Any time you see the Red Cross and the Salvation Army working together, that's a disaster," Walaker said.
8:40 a.m. - Sherl Thomsen of the Minnkota Red Cross says they're opening shelters. Four more are on standby.
8:42 a.m. - An animal shelter is being set up at the Red River fairgrounds. The Minnesota animal disaster coalition is enroute.
At a news conference afterward, Walaker said the mood of the area is still good, "but there's maybe 10 percent of the people who are having difficulty with this."
"I give us a 4-to-1 shot at winning this thing," he later said. "And those are good odds at any horse track in the country."(2 Comments)
I'm getting some emails about how people can volunteer. It's a pretty simple process in the Fargo Moorhead area. Call 701-476-4000. That's the volunteer hotline number. You can learn more in a post I made on Monday.
If you're heading for the Moorhead side, the central location is the Nemzek Field House on the Minnesota State University Moorhead campus. From there, they bus you out to sandbag sites.
In Grand Forks, the hotline number is (701) 787-8052. This hotline is for people looking to volunteer, people looking for help from volunteers, and people looking to receive sandbags.
If you're heading to the region, be sure to drop me a note and send a cellphone number.
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)
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.
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 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.
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)
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)
MPR's Than Tibbetts has sent along this view of the Fargodome, now known as Sandbag Central. Be sure to click it.
Now we wait. John Brummer of Moorhead is finished with his portion of the giant sandbag dike that snakes along the Red River south from I-94. With any luck at all, he'll get some sleep soon.
A crest that's taking longer than expected, and thousands of young volunteers working harder than anyone could have imagined have some people in the neighborhood feeling better about things.
"I heard one guy say, 'I'd like to say I'm feeling good, but you're still nervous,' and doing these little things like plugging these drain tiles, it provides better sleep medicine," he told me on Tuesday.
"The college kids, high school kids and elementary kids have been fantastic. That keeps our attitude going in the right direction," he said. "You feel all alone the week before. How are we going to get this done and woe is me, but when these guys show up, it's 'let's have a party.'"
MPR's Tom Roberson did a great job describing how things have changed in Fargo-Moorhead from the devastating flood of 1997. Brummer has one more for the list: better coordination between public safety officials and the homeowners.
"Dean from the Moorhead Fire Department (below) has been tremendous. Those guys are going around, shooting elevation on the sandbags, and letting us know whether we're too high or two low," he said. The locals are getting plenty of help from their counterparts in the Twin Cities. Firefighters from the Eden Prairie and Hopkins fire departments were stationed in Brummer's neighborhood.
Out back, Brummer was ready for one final task. "We're going to pull the plastic over (the sandbags) and it'll be Miller time."
Todd and Donna Morse weren't around for the Great Flood of 1997 -- they lived in Coon Rapids then -- but they've quickly learned the art of flood protection against a river that has a penchant for taking detours through neighborhoods like theirs in Moorhead.
As she stood next to a backyard swimming pool where the flood of '97 stopped, Donna said her neighbors who were here in 1997 have been saying how surprised they are about how fast the Red River is rising toward them this year.
When I visited with them on Tuesday, they -- and dozens of volunteers from a school in Fergus Falls -- were putting the finishing touches on the portion of the neighborhood sandbag wall that will stop growing when it reaches 42 feet.
Then they wait.
"(We'll) keep our pumps ready and keep watching it closely and see what we need to do," Donna said. "We've plugged drains in the basement; we've hauled stuff up from the basement in case it breaches on the other side."
They got a boost from the kids on Tuesday morning. "We were out doing it and they came around the corner like the cavalry," she said.
When I took the picture above, I said they looked awfully happy for having a flood on the doorstep. So they gave me this:
The one question that keeps getting e-mailed to me is "what do they do with the sandbags once the flood is over?" Fortunately, All Things Considered's Tom Crann was on the case, and got the answer from Ken Hellevang, an Extension Service agent at North Dakota State University.
"Normally the bags will be removed and the sand reclaimed and used for the normal kinds of construction projects that we'd use the sand for. A lot it will end up in concrete," he said. Listen
You can find the entire interview here.
Residents, however, won't have the considerable help getting the sandbags out that they had putting them in. How are you going to spend your summer? Theirs is now mostly spoken for.
So that's one flood mystery out of the way, let's move on to #2.
Why do TV reporters insist on doing this? If this were the story of, say, a manure lagoon, would they wade in?
HOW TO HELP
I've gotten a few questions today on how to help. Assuming that means you're interested in coming to the Fargo-Moorhead area, call 701-476-4000, which is the First Link volunteer line. I don't have any information for you on the Grand Forks area, but it's worth noting that the flooding wasn't expected to be bad there, and today the region sent several busloads of volunteers to Fargo.
If you do drive out, bring a map. They're closing the off-ramp to Moorhead (I-75) off I-94 on Wednesday morning so they can build a dike across it.
I posted a presentation below about the involvement by this region's young people. Here's my appearance on tonight's All Things Considered, discussing it more. Listen
The flood crest was expected in Fargo on Friday. From the looks of the latest projection, however, it now looks like Sunday morning.
Things were looking pretty bleak for the folks who live on Riverview Circle in Moorhead. They had started sandbagging last weekend. "People were in denial," one resident told me this afternoon. Denial that the river would rise faster than they've seen it, or climb the banking that separates their 1970s-era homes and the Red River, which has every intention of moving in.
That's when these kids from Hillcrest Lutheran Academy in Fergus Falls showed up to help fill sandbags...
... which were delivered by a skid-loader to the driveway of the homes, where these kids from Fergus Falls High School (they were allowed to come as long as they had a C average or above), formed a chain gang to get them to the backyard...
... which was a great relief to Donna and Todd Morse...
... and their next-door neighbor John Brummer.
Their dike, which stretches south along the meandering river from I-94 for more than a mile, has just been built up to 42 feet above flood stage. They're hoping it's enough.
Why are they smiling? Because the kids were smiling, they said.
I'll have more from all of them later this afternoon and I'll be checking in with them as the flood crest approaches
I'm at the daily flood information meeting at the Fargo City Hall. About 30 people -- all men -- are sitting around a table.
Fargo Mayor Dennis Walker announces the Red River has crested at Wahpeton at a level below that which was predicted. "We need another good day and we assume the same is going to happen today," he said.
Gov. John Hovan said he couldn't get home last night because of a blizzard in Bismarck. About 800 North Dakota National Guard members will be in the area by later today.
Hoping to get a federal disaster declaration today. They're hoping to get 90 percent reimbursement. "In 1997, we got 100 percent," the mayor said.
A few officials were upset by an article in the Fargo Forum newspaper today in which a Salvation Army official said he was seeing more "fear."
" Fear. We don't see any fear, we just see people working very hard," the mayor said. "There may be people concerned and they're always concerned."
At the meeting a Salvation Army official apologized for the comment.
The mayor said people are showing up from Minnesota to volunteer. "People in Minnesota are bypassing Moorhead, which I think is kind of interesting," the Fargo mayor said. And he's right. If you didn't know any better, you wouldn't think there's a flood problem in Moorhead.
South Fargo -- Most of the area will be "buttoned up" today, the Army Corps of Engineers said.
Will close University Drive if the water gets over 40 feet.
"We're diking where we've never diked before," one official said.
Preparing to close sewers. Sewage systems are "keeping up."
The goal was 200,000 per day, then 250,000 per day, now trying to get 300,000 a day. They put out a call for volunteers on Monday. A second central sandbagging location was set up on Monday. 280,000 bags were filled on Monday, overnight, another 170,000 bags were filled. "We think we hit the 450,000 bag mark yesterday," an official said to applause.
"The bad news is we still need more. We need to continue making sandbags through Saturday in case we need to fortify levees," he said.
Classes have been canceled at North Dakota State University until further notice. About 3,200 students have been filling sandbags.(8 Comments)
(Moorhead) - This area picked up another half inch of rain in the last 12 hours, the last thing it needed. But is snow and cold temperatures a good or a bad thing?The meteorologists say the cold will slow the snow melt, but also make it harder to stuff sandbags.
We're heading out in a bit to document the effort to save some homes in the area. MPR's Dan Gunderson, based in Moorhead, is in Fargo this morning. Ambar Espinoza will be in Breckenridge when the Red River crests there this afternoon.
Volunteers are streaming into the area. I saw firefighters from St. Louis Park and Chaska last evening. Some are having a hard time finding a place to stay, so some of the colleges here are putting them up.
All three of the colleges in the area are closed again today, so students can help sandbag.
Here are the latest river intentions.
Downstream at Breckenridge, things will be quicker:
On Monday evening, it was pretty clear Highway 210 wouldn't be open for long. I was about halfway through one portion where water had covered the road when I had the image of Mary Lucia telling the story of the blogger who got himself swept into the flood by doing something he knows he shouldn't have been doing. "Turn around, don't drown," National Guard Capt. Chuck Moore intoned when I told him about the situation later.
A Chevy Cavalier isn't much of an off-road vehicle.
Here's a few pictures as arrived in Breckenridge late Monday afternoon. Click the little arrows icon in the lower right corner to see full-sized images.
If you've ever traveled US Highway 1 from Miami to Key West, you know what it's like to drive around West Central Minnesota and eastern North Dakota tonight. Other than the water lapping the road edge on both sides, and the anticipation of a cold drink at your destination, there the similarity ends.
The flood is a disaster still waiting to happen in Fargo and Moorhead, but it arrived on Monday in Breckenridge, a town that was heavily damaged in the great flood of '97, but often loses out to its bigger neighbors to the north when it comes to attention.
Late Monday afternoon, the fire department and other volunteers on the Breckenridge side started putting up a flood wall they purchased after the '97 flood. It took awhile to figure out where Part A connects to Part B, and the Red River wasn't waiting. It had already inundated the town park. Within a half hour, however, the wall was up, protecting the western flank from the rising river, and bulldozers began building a dike across the Minnesota Ave. bridge, cutting the city off. Wahpeton, North Dakota was soon to be on its own.
"I've never lived through a flood before," Breckenridge resident Carri Johnson told me as she helped assemble the flood wall. She said Monday was the first day she's been nervous. "I've never lived anywhere where a flood was even a threat, so I've just been watching people's faces because they lived through the 1997 flood and then day by day you can see the fear and... so I'm really watching my husband's face and when he gets scared, that's when I'm going to get scared."
Her husband, a firefighter, was in Breckenridge for the '97 flood.
"I saw a little nervousness today," she said.
She says she has volunteers ready to help her sandbag around her home if the water goes higher. (Listen)
It will go higher, says Captain Chuck Moore of the Minnesota National Guard (above right). He's in charge of about 40 Guardsmen, who were sent down to Breckenridge at the city's request after they were initially deployed to Moorhead.
In a makeshift office on the second floor of the Breckenridge City Hall, within spitting distance of the river, Moore coordinates six teams who have been deployed around the city. They're keeping an eye on a sandbagging location south of town because he's heard some communities have tried to steal sandbags from other communities.
"Sometime tomorrow (Tuesday) is the crest... they're expecting it to crest for two or three days," he said. (Listen)
It's not just the Red River that's causing the problem. In Breckenridge, the Otter Tail River has also spilled over, leaving mud down one city street. Across the Red River, the Sheyenne River is cutting off access to the bright lights of what passes for the big cities here.
The curse of March is that four or five months from now, if history holds, there'll be a shortage of water here and whatever crops can be planted this year will be parched. But for now, it's Water World in this section of the Upper Midwest.
Not long after I talked to both Johnson and Moore, I found myself cut off from Moorhead, my final destination for the day. I'd already been told that Highway 75 was closed, so I headed to North Dakota for Interstate 29, but it was closed, too. I drove another 25 miles, and found every road north blocked.
I turned around and headed back to Breckenridge, but by then the bridge into downtown had been sealed. I tried several back streets and found Highway 210 open enough to get into town. By the time darkness fell, so had heavy rain, which flooded most of the roadways north to Moorhead.
I shared the road only with the occasional dump truck, carrying sand to the river.(1 Comments)
The coming flood in the Fargo-Moorhead area has already been a test of social networking sites in an emergency. So far, the sites have passed with flying colors.
Photographer Kevin Tobosa, who lives in South Fargo, has helped organize volunteers to fill and move sandbags, and hit paydirt with Facebook, organizing the Fargo-Moorhead Flood Volunteer Network.
"I got an e-mail last Thursday with a call for volunteers. It just kind of hit me that we can really get the word out quickly... to a lot of people in real time using a social network like Facebook. We also have a Twitter account set up. People have this up and running at work, at home, going to their cellphones. E-mail seemed a lot slower, which is funny since it's always been known as a fast method to communicate," he told me today.
Tobosa says when he told Fargo's volunteer coordinator about his idea, "she thought maybe we could get about 50 volunteers and they'd mostly be young people." Tobosa set up the Facebook group on Thursday, sending out 100 "invites" to his network (he runs his photography business via Facebook.)
"Within 24 hours, we'd broken 1,000 (group members), within 48 hours we'd broken 2,000 and today we're at 3,000 people who are receiving our updates as they need volunteers," he said. "When we do put out a call for volunteers, we get that push, and now they're using that as their primary push and the press releases follow shortly thereafter. Just from the messages we've received via Facebook, people are thanking us for organizing it. A lot of people are out on spring break and hadn't realized how serious it is. People don't read the news when they're on vacation, but they are checking their Facebook and Twitter accounts, so that was a significant communication breakthrough."
Over the next week, Tobosa does not intend to change the purpose of his Facebook/Twitter efforts to a full-blown news-reporting effort. "The intent of this was never as a news outlet; there are a lot of news organizations that are already covering that. They have blogs on their sites. It was simply to be a voice for first-link volunteer coordination, to tell people where they were needed and what their urgencies are."
Tobosa has spent lots of time at "Sandbag University, in Moorhead and Fargo, locations where volunteers are filling and moving sandbags. "It's hard work. It's certainly back-breaking work, but there are a lot of people doing it," he said.
After our interview, he headed out to a dike being built a block from his house, which survived the '97 flood, but is on "the bubble" for the flood which is expected to crest Thursday or Friday.
Listen to the entire interview with Kevin Tobasa. Listen
(I'm heading to West Central Minnesota today. If you're in the area, please let me know.)(2 Comments)
Over the next few days, we'll hear a lot about Fargo-Moorhead, but there's more to flooding in the Upper Midwest than the Red River.
Out in North Dakota, the National Guard evacuated some people last evening in the Linton area who were stranded by rising water in creeks that were plugged with ice flows, according to a press release issued by the Guard today.
"The first rescue was of two citizens and two dogs from a farm in rural Carson, N.D. The second rescue of two citizens was from a farm near New Leipzig, N.D. Both farms were surrounded by four to five feet of floodwaters, making overland rescue impossible," it said.
These pictures were provided by the Guard:
These images bring to mind a question I usually have during these types of stories. If you've only got a few minutes, and you can only take what you can grab, what do you take?
I'm heading for the west-central region of Minnesota today, stopping first in Breckenridge and then on to Moorhead. If you're in the area, I'd like to stop and chat with you. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.(2 Comments)