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Flooding in Fargo/Moorhead – 09

Photo by Tim Dachtera

First off, I need to say a big ‘hats off’ to all of the volunteers that helped with this entire process, from providing or moving food, filling bags, getting down in the trenches to shore up dikes, or doing whatever you could to help out, Thank You. Also, thank you to the men and women of any and all branches of service that contributed to this massive effort to work to save Fargo Moorhead from the flooding.

I had made a decision to go up and give a hand as soon as I could possibly get out of work on Friday, and ended up cleaning my desk off Thursday, able to take all of Friday off. I ended up leaving my home in Cottage Grove about 10pm after realizing I would get no sleep sitting at home waiting to leave in the morning. I took off with a full tank of gas, a few cans of red-bull and some other goodies to keep me awake for the trip.

I kept in touch with a few locals up there en route (going against the MN law of texting and driving, and it wouldn’t be the first traffic violation in efforts to help out I break this weekend) My initial plan was to meet up with Myrtle at Steamer Hill and crash at the trailer for the night before getting up and heading to Sandbag Central to fill bags. Upon arriving to the Hill at 1:30am, we realized getting in would most likely result in one of us getting stuck. – Now, usually I have a carefully thought out plan on where I’m staying, when I arrive etc, In this case, it was ‘drive till I get somewhere with a bed’

We decide the Hill is no place to stay and venture in to Hawley as I needed gas, and we had a last resort to call, Stan. I left him a voice mail (as he said he would open his door for us when we spoke earlier, even if it was 3am) – As we were about to venture into a Perkins to stay awake as no other hotel had a room, Stan came thru with a return phone call and a place to rest our heads.

We graciously accepted, and I left him a loaf of my Amish Friendship Bread in the morning (I knew I brought it for some better reason than to eat) – We left at 7:30 in my truck, bound for Fargo/Moorhead to see where we could help, and meet up with our other sandbagger Hill-people, Crystal, Rachel, and find our other friends coming up from the cities, Vicki and Justin.

Myrtle and I ended up at the Fargo Dome sandbagging after calling in to the Flood-Line. We arrived and signed our waiver (which I expect will result in some mailing since our address was requested) Walking into the arena, I had never seen anything like it before, it was as close to an organized fuster-cluck as you can imagine. Shovels flailing, bags being filled, pallets, dumpsters and front-end loaders being filled, it was amazing to see all the people working for a collective effort.

We jumped right in and started to fill bags, chatting with those around us, all working for a common goal, to save Fargo/Moorhead.

I could not believe the food that poured in, the support and the positive nature of everyone around. There was a decent amount of coordination and some notion of order, but at one point before the dinner hour, we all reached a critical mass of sandbags everywhere. Everyone finished up their piles of sand (mind you, it took 30 minutes for a crew of about 50 people to polish off three dump-truck loads of dirt, we were MOVING) – I also estimated that you can fill a sandbag every 10 seconds from start to finish if you were working at a moderate pave. We were there from 9-5, with a little lunch break, do the math. – We ended up moving that amount of bags later in the day to get them out of the Dome, and then again Saturday to help shore-up dikes.

Vicki and Justin made it in about lunch time after dealing with road closures and other flood-related traffic issues. After a lunch of Pizza, or Brats, or Sammiches and cookies, chips, water, juice or coffee, we headed back to the grind and filled more bags after they cleared the floor, and got re-organized. The afternoon went much more streamlined to the point where we were done filling bags at 4pm, and on to starting to remove them from the Dome. After humping bags into massive front-end loaders for a good amount of time, the four of us retired over to BW3’s across the street and met up with another fellow ‘Bagger Myrtle knew and had some beer and wings. A group of Servicemen sat down next to us and Vicki bought them a round to which they thanked us. We were the ones thanking them for their support.

Being later in the day, we tracked down Rachel and Crystal who had been bagging all day over in Moorhead and collected them from a hard day. After finding one of the few bottle shops open, we all piled into Rachel’s house (safe from the waters) and made our way thru the shower hoping to feel a bit more refreshed. I will admit that some Advil and a few beers did help the sore muscles, and we retired at a decent hour.

Waking up Saturday, we checked out the news and radio and heard of a local street in need of help. After Crystal made us a fantastic breakfast, we saddled up and tossed our thermals back on for a day of bagging and shoring-up dikes in residential areas.

Since I was the only one with a 4WD vehicle, we all piled into the Explorer (mind you, 6 people, 5 seats.. yah.. someone was riding cargo) – At this point, we didn’t think the minor infraction would be an issue considering we were going 10 mph, and we were headed to sandbag.

We found a block near the Family Service Center and Clay County Jail that was in need of help and jumped in line with the other 50 some people in the yard tossing bags and helping save a few homes. Again, I was amazed at the people, the support, the FOOD (Papa John’s rolled by with 12 pizzas) The homeowners were so thankful, and when we shored up their house, they joined us to help at the next home.

The house above, was the last house we helped with, and they had multiple pumps running, and really would have been in trouble without some help. You can see the dike is about 8′ tall, with water up to about 2’ from the top of it. Typically, these residents cannot see the Red River from their homes. After moving another 2500 or so estimated sandbags, there was a lull in the action while more sandbags were waiting to be dropped off, and our crew was tuckered out, and seeing fresh bodies coming down the street to help, we bowed out, back to dry warm clothes and a hard floor to un-crunch my back on.

We coined the festivitives ‘Flood Party ’09’ with some brews, pizza, movies and good friends. Waking up Sunday to seeing the river leveling off and things mostly under control, those of us from the cities packed our bags and started the trip back home. There were a handful of homes lost in the flooding as of this point, and water in some school basements from a few levy’s that began to fail (that were later shored up)

This was a tremendous experience for me to be a part of, and felt really good to be helping, contributing and making a difference. I realized at one point over the weekend that I had done more sandbagging than photo taking, which for me, meant I was really there to help out vs. be a gawker, and normally I’m that guy with the camera.

You can bet I’ll be back up again if the need is there, and will bring friends again. – Vicki and Justin said next time I plan a ‘weekend adventure’ to make it less strenuous, so I guess I owe them a weekend of camping and beer when the weather gets nice!

Were you affected by the F/M flooding, or from a surrounding area affected by the water? Did you help out too? Please comment and leave your story!