Closed business, services make life difficult in Fargo-Moorheadby Stephanie Hemphill, Minnesota Public Radio
Life has been anything but normal in the Red River Valley. In Fargo and Moorhead, businesses of all kinds have been closed for nearly a week. That makes it hard for customers, workers, and the bottom line.
Moorhead, MN — Contractors are busy hauling clay and sand. Utility workers are on the job restoring power. Cops and firefighters are putting in untold overtime. But for a lot of people in Fargo and Moorhead, the flood has simply brought life to a strange standstill.
"Most of the clinics are closed, and airport's closed and businesses are closed, so that takes away from our business," said Bill Baugh, a cab driver in Fargo-Moorhead.
Baugh said on the day shifts it's all about delivering people to and from businesses. So he hasn't had many calls lately.
One of the clinics that are closed is MeritCare in Fargo, the largest medical facility in North Dakota. Last Thursday ambulances from all over North Dakota and Minnesota lined up at the hospital to take patients out of harm's way. MeritCare plans to re-open today. But for the last week, hospital workers have been staying home.
Nancy Otto works in cardiac rehab and she said people who are paid by the hour have to use paid vacation, or take time off without pay.
"There are people saying I take this as time now and we don't have a family vacation, or I'm not going to be able to pay my bills," Otto said. "It's choices for people. And that's for people with paid vacation time, but there's so many jobs that do not have paid vacation time that are closed, and those are the people I really feel for."
People who are unemployed for more than a week may qualify for unemployment insurance. And if the damage is bad enough, special federal unemployment insurance could become available.
The city of Fargo told non-essential businesses to stay closed. The city wanted to keep the roads open for trucks hauling sandbags and clay, and for emergency crews moving around.
Moorhead didn't issue an order to close, but a lot of businesses were closed anyway -- because their workers were busy fighting the flood.
Hardware and home-improvement stores have been open, and they've been busy. Dick Popp owns Moorhead Ace Hardware. He drew on his experience in the 1997 flood and ordered a lot of plumbing supplies, like sump pumps, fittings and especially drain plugs.
"We did stock up on quite a few of them and thought we had the right numbers but we didn't," Popp said. "We were able to work with Ace, got supplies pretty much on daily basis, but still only getting as much as they had available in the warehouse."
He had to order supplies from the warehouse in LaCrosse four times last week instead of the usual two.
So Dick Popp's bottom line isn't suffering, but he worries about what the flood will do to the area in the long run, especially in a national economy that's already down.
"And now people had to use some of their money to buy an additional sump pump, drain plugs, fittings, whatever, it's probably up to 500 dollars per household had to spend on so-called preparing for flooding, that's 500 dollars out of their pockets they would be spending someplace else."
But there's always money for some things. At Bernie's Wines and Liquors, Manager Josh Costello says at first he felt a little guilty that he wasn't out helping on the sandbag line. But then he realized he was offering a public service.
"We've been very busy, and a lot of the people coming in are thankful that we're open, because after long day of sandbagging, there's nothing like a beer to end the day," Costello said.
The cities along the Red River are a long way from a return to normal. But for some people, a few warm meals and perhaps a beverage will be a nice way to celebrate a victory so far against the river.
- Morning Edition, 04/01/2009, 7:20 a.m.