Sacrificing a home to save othersby Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio
As the Red River slowly recedes from a record flood crest, many area residents are returning to assess damage. It will take days, perhaps weeks for city officials in Fargo and Moorhead to get information on how many homes have been damaged or lost. But there are pockets in each city where neighbors will begin to tell their stories of lost basements, lost possessions and even some homes that area a total loss.
Moorhead, Minn. — Water surrounds Rich Eggert's home just north of Moorhead in Oakport Township. A sheet of ice shows where the water reached his basement windows. A crew from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, along with some local firefighters, set up a gas powered pump in his garage.
Minnesota DNR employee Steve Grove has been assigned to flood duty since last week and has spent the past couple of days pumping basements. He's known Rich Eggert for years, the two served together in Iraq as members of the Minnesota National Guard. Grove was on his way back home to Bemidji, but made one last stop at Eggert's house.
"I told him hell or high water this will be one of the last things I do before I leave here," Grove said.
Rich Eggert is a Moorhead firefighter who made the choice to stay at work instead of sandbagging his home against the rising river.
When the Red River crept up to his home and filled the basement with four feet of muddy water, he was on the other side of town helping a neighborhood along the river build sandbag dikes.
"For a week my world was seven houses along Rivershore Drive," Eggert said. "That's just simple math. Seven homes, or my house. Yeah, there's some nice stuff I'm sad about. But these people, what are they paying taxes for? If it turns bad and we run away and worry about our own stuff then that whole oath we took when we swore in that we'd protect em is meaningless."
Eggert said he thought his home was safe because it stayed dry during the big flood in 1997. But as the water rose higher, he told his wife and four children to leave.
"Some boys from Callaway Fire [Department] that were over here helping came out and helped me carry up the bigger items out of the basement," Eggert said. "Most of our possessions are on the main floor. Obviously I've got a furnace, water heater [under water]."
Books, clothing and carpet float in the muddy water. Eggert said his three boys have their bedroom in the basement. His family is staying at a fellow firefighter's home.
"It makes me sick, nauseous, feel like crying, but it's just a house," he said. "My wife and kids are fine. Everybody I know and love is alive and well. We'll rebuild this. On my 'to-do' list is to meet with our bank tomorrow and I guess interest rates are low still. We'll refinance and do what we gotta do."
Eggert said he doesn't have flood insurance because he never expected the river to reach his home.
He's talked with his insurance agent and isn't clear yet whether his homeowner's policy will cover any of the losses. He said, ironically, he learned his insurance agent also insures one of the homes he helped save on Rivershore Drive.
"I said, 'Oh, you can come look at mine because you don't have to do this one. Because we stopped it.' It would have taken at least five homes So, sacrifice one to save five," Eggert said. "Does it really matter whose it is? I don't think so. If it's mine, it's mine."
Rich Eggert hopes to get the water pumped out and the wet sheetrock and carpet torn out this week. Then he'll wait to see how high an expected second crest rises in mid April before he starts rebuilding.
Eggert is one of hundreds of homeowners with some level of flood damage to their homes. The cleanup and damage assessment is just beginning. FEMA crews will be on the ground this week, going through neighborhoods to start adding up the damage.
Rich Eggert said he's not sure if he'll just repair the damage to his home, or make it a larger remodeling project.
One thing he is sure of. By next year, his home will be surrounded by a permanent levy built to withstand a 42 foot crest on the Red River.
- All Things Considered, 04/01/2009, 5:20 p.m.