As flood prep picks up, fatigue sets in for manyby Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio
Kragnes, Minn. — As communities throughout Minnesota prepare for anticipated spring flooding, the disruption and stress of what's become an annual event is causing many to experience flood fatigue.
In the Red River Valley, residents are preparing for the third major flood in a row, and officials are calling for volunteers to fill sandbags -- another sign the flood fight looms for Fargo and Moorhead residents.
Flood preparations also mean extra work for many city employees.
"About the only way we can do it is go from our eight hour days to 12- and 13-hour days," said Fargo Solid Waste Manager Terry Ludlum, who has a crew of 54 who normally handle garbage and recycling.
For the next several weeks they also need to coordinate the filling of 3 million sandbags.
"We're going to do that six days a week," Ludlam said. "Realistically there's not a lot of smiling faces. On the other hand for a lot of these folks this is their fifth of sixth event and they understand there's work to be done and you just have to put the time in."
Ludlum hopes sandbags will be filled in time to give volunteers and city staff a break before floodwaters arrive.
FLOODING DISRUPTS SCHOOL
Floodwaters also disrupt life in many small towns.
In Hendrum, about 30 miles north of Moorhead, the school becomes a barracks for National Guard troops and volunteers. People sleep on cots and eat in the school cafeteria.
Superintendent Ollen Church said this will likely be the third year in a row students miss school right before they take state mandated tests in mid-April.
"It's kind of a double whammy is what it is," Church said. "You lose a lot of student days plus you come back and you punish the kids by expecting them to start these state tests and we haven't been able to work with the kids for three weeks."
That's what happened two years ago.
This year, Church says teachers are preparing study folders for students to take home if school is closed because of flooding. He hopes that will help prepare for the all important tests that gauge student success.
But Church said students have a hard time focusing on schoolwork even when school is in session.
"We had kids that were being boated in. The only way they could get to school is if they jumped in a boat and got up to the nearest road," he said. "So that's in the back of their mind when they come to school, thinking, my road was flooded when I came to school this morning. Am I going to get home tonight?"
ISOLATION AHEAD FOR SOME
Isolation is a part of spring floods for thousands of rural families.
About 10 miles north of Moorhead, Lee and Noreen Thomas have a farm near the Buffalo River. The Red River is just a few miles away.
The farm is surrounded by a dike, but during a flood the only way in or out is by boat.
"There is for five miles in every direction, five feet of water. We're the Thomas island," Noreen Thomas said. "The kids tease that they're captains of their own island. No one is voted off the island yet, but sometimes we get a little crabby with each other."
During a flood, Thomas said, dikes and pumps must be monitored around the clock in addition to normal farm chores.
She said there are fun times with family spending more time together than normal. But there are also sounds and sights that trigger anxiety. One is the sight of water slowly, silently creeping closer. Another is the sound of helicopters passing overhead.
"We could hear the helicopters coming," she recalled of past floods. "And they were coming and coming and soon you knew they were hovering and your neighbor was getting plucked out. I will never forget that sound."
Thomas said the most stressful thing is uncertainty. Each flood is different, there's no way to plan for every eventuality.
Uncertainty is a one of the key causes of anxiety about floods, said Dr. Andy Mclean, medical director for the North Dakota Department of Human Services. He's hearing lots of reports of people having trouble sleeping, feeling irritable and anxious.
Mclean advises making lists and plans.
"There's nothing worse than just waiting and anticipating and anticipating and not having any control over it," he said. "It's certainly more healthy to put things down on paper and to start to plan and take action than it is to just sit and stew."
The National Weather Service releases a new flood outlook next week. It will likely be another month before rivers start rising across the region.
More from MPRAfter the snow: a flood forecast
February 18, 2011
Forecaster expects Red River flood risk to stay high
February 17, 2011
Fargo gets jump on expected flood, starts filling sandbags
February 14, 2011
'Sandbag Central' opens in Fargo
February 14, 2011
Couple gives up fight against Red River, leaves Riverview Circle
February 13, 2011
- Morning Edition, 02/21/2011, 7:25 a.m.