As the water rises in St. Paul, they fight the uncertainty with preparationby Dr. Terry Crowson
St. Paul, Minn. — After 27 years in our house on Goodrich Avenue in St. Paul, my wife and I decided it was time to downsize. The children had grown and moved out years ago; the lawn mowing, shoveling and maintenance of a century-old house was becoming more tedious by the year.
Having lived in St. Paul more than 35 years, and not wanting to leave our community, we found the ideal townhouse in the new Upper Landing development on Shepard Road. In the spring of 2003, we packed up our two cats and moved to the banks of the Mississippi.
Prior to purchasing our new home, I was concerned about the possibility of flooding. I recalled the old adage: "The river owns the valley from bluff to bluff." It was reassuring that the developers had raised the property to minimize the probability of water damage to the homes. Even levels reached in the flood of 1965 would pose no threat to our property.
I remembered the flood of 1965. I was a freshman at the University of Minnesota. My friends and I drove to Winona to help with sandbagging. Since then, the flood of '65 has been the benchmark for Mississippi flooding in St. Paul. If you walk the paths along the river you will encounter signs marking the level of that historic flood. My favorite is the hand-painted line on a fence post near the old power plant.
In the seven years we have lived in the Upper Landing development, the floods have never reached us.
When we left for vacation in Florida three weeks ago, I was aware that forecasts were predicting flooding this spring and anticipated high water in early to mid-April. So I was a bit surprised when I received an email from a friend last week, offering to house us and our cats should we have to evacuate during flooding.
I immediately went online and read the following headline in the Pioneer Press:
"St. Paul braces for record flood, potential evacuation of riverside residents/A 50-50 chance of historic high water predicted; 2,200 could be forced to flee."
The prospect of returning from vacation in time to "flee" was worrisome. The article went on to say that city officials would be meeting with Upper Landing residents to discuss flood preparation plans early the following week. So we had time.
Last Tuesday, we joined many of our neighbors, property managers, and city officials at the RiverCenter to discuss current projections for flood levels and the specific actions to be taken should the water reach certain levels. The Red Cross assured us we would have shelter if needed, and the Humane Society was ready to look after our pets.
I was impressed by the competence and caring of our public employees and the diligence with which they approached planning and communication. I am grateful we have organizations in our communities ready and able to provide support during times of personal and community stress. It is one of the reasons we chose to stay in St. Paul.
As the crest approaches, I regularly check the city website that plots the current river level hourly and projects the levels over the next days. Paradoxically, I find myself hoping the cold spell extends into April to moderate the rate of snow melt. Contingency plans have been developed for evacuation, housing and pet care. Preparation makes it easier to live with the uncertainties.
The ongoing news from Japan and struggles with flooding in other communities portray the tragic consequences that can result from floods. Even if the worst-case scenario occurs this year in St. Paul, my wife and I will experience only minor inconvenience. Which reminds me — I really need to get that check to the Red Cross.
Terry Crowson is a physician who has lived in St. Paul since 1967 with his wife of 45 years.