Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Getting Back to Normal

Things are slowly getting back to normal around here, as the flood waters recede and we begin a massive cleanup campaign. And I do mean massive. Think 5.5 million sandbags, and something like 70 miles of temporary earthen dikes. There were times when I wondered if we'd gone dike crazy, but the determination to save our communities was pheonomenal! As the dikes are torn down, a layer of slippery mud is left behind. It's a mess. But the river continues to drop, and we are looking forward to the day when the bike trails are clear and we are able to enjoy our parks again.

My sandbags were picked up yesterday .... my grass is turning green ... and my tulips have pushed up through the soil. They should be quite pretty in a week or two if the rabbits don't get them. Speaking of rabbits: enter Princess and Dee Dee. Especially Dee Dee. She is obsessed with rabbits!!! There is often a nest beneath my deck and she is fixated on that whenever she goes outside. I mentioned that during the flood, I kept the girls with me - not wanting to get separated from them. I decided to tease Dee Dee one day. I went to YouTube and pulled up a picture of a rabbit ... and then a squirrel .... and then lifted Dee Dee up on my lap so she could see them. It drove her crazy!! She could see them, but she couldn't smell them. She jumped up on my desk, determined to find them!! Surely they must be behind that monitor!!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Red River Valley Flood of 2009

I’m not a mathematician, but after experiencing my second 500 year flood in 12 years, the formula of probabilities seems skewed to me. The past three weeks have been a blur, as we’ve experienced a blizzard, an epic flood, another major snowstorm and now await the second crest of the Red River. It’s not often that we pray for cool weather in April, but right now that is what we need, as it allows the river to drop before the next big run-off, which is currently forecast to begin next week.

Compared to other kinds of natural disasters, a couple of things stand out about a flood. One is the fact that floodwater is not covered on a regular homeowner’s insurance policy. Flood insurance is available through FEMA, but it is very expensive and it only covers the structure of your home; none of your furnishings or belongings. The other thing about a flood … at least about this kind of flood, is that you have time to prepare. That is both a blessing and a curse. It is nice to have the opportunity to move things to higher ground and build sandbag levees around your home, but the exhaustion that comes with that – especially when it drags on for weeks – is unimaginable. The fatigue and the stress, added together, really start to take a toll.

This flood, also, has had the added dimension of being historic. No one has lived through a crest of the Red River above 40 feet before. We are at the bottom of a huge, giant bowl (the prehistoric Lake Aggasiz) and when you get this much water trying to drain at the same time, it does some quirky things.

I live 2 blocks from the river on relatively high ground (keeping in mind that no ground in the Red River Valley is very high!) During the Flood of 1997, I focused on helping friends and the community at large – something I have done again this year – but with the added concern of how it was going to affect me. In 1997 I was never in any real danger. This year I was. I worked several nights (10 p.m. to 2 a.m.) at the Flood Call Center (a centralized dispatch center for the community), helped build sandbag levees in my neighborhood and baked quite a few Papa Murphy’s pizzas for those whose bodies held out longer than mine did on the sandbag line! I placed sandbags around my basement window wells and back door. I moved as much of my basement up to the main floor as I could, and shook ice out of my sump pump hose every three hours around the clock. Travel in and between the cities of Fargo and Moorhead has been extremely challenging, to say the least! All but two of our bridges are out of commission, and the entrance ramp that I normally take to get on the Interstate has an earthen dike across it. My normal 12-15 minute commute has turned into a 45-70 minute trip, and there was one day that it took me 2 hours and 40 minutes to get home! We’re not used to that in this part of the world!

Some of the poignant memories that will never be forgotten include parking my car (facing forward) at the edge of the driveway in case I needed to make a quick escape, having my dogs leashed 24 hours a day so that I could quickly grab them if we needed to leave, getting a Reverse 911 call at 6:30 in the morning advising us to evacuate, the sound of Blackhawk helicopters dropping 1-ton sand baskets on a school campus that had a major breach, and the sound of emergency vehicles screaming as they raced to patch a leaky dike. (The coordination of emergency, military and law enforcement personnel - as well as disaster relief services – has been stellar!)
I have been very blessed. I never lost electricity, and other than some seepage caused by an ice jam in my downspout, did not take on any water. With basement drains plugged to prevent sewer backup, I never felt in any imminent danger. But with a river flood, it’s pretty much an ‘all or nothing’ deal, and I’m well aware that one major breach of the dike protecting my neighborhood, and we would all find our homes filling with water, as happened in Grand Forks/East Grand Forks in 1997. Because of that, the city has built a number of contingency dikes behind the primary structures. Unfortunately, one of those contingency dikes is being built right down my street, and I’m on the wrong side of it. It’s tough to think of your home as a possible sacrifice to save the rest of the city. Things are looking good right now, and I have confidence that we’re going to be just fine.

Another anomaly of the Red River is that the crazy thing runs north into Canada, eventually emptying into Lake Winnipeg. That creates another interesting set of problems in the spring when the southern valley typically thaws before the northern valley, resulting in ice jams along the river. It’s also why, when we had over a foot of heavy, wet snow a couple of days after the first crest, we were even more concerned about the fact that areas to our south had two feet!

Princess and Dee Dee are great stress relievers and they’re always happy for snow, no matter what the date! Since I live on one side of the river, and work on the other, I have not wanted to get separated from my girls. I have kept them with me throughout the flood and have been very grateful for a boss who not only has understood that need, but actually enjoys having them around. I’m sure that they have picked up on my stress at times, and they haven’t been getting as much exercise as they normally do. Frankly, there aren’t a lot of places to walk right now! The sidewalks and streets are an icy mess, and almost all of our parks are along the river. In addition to that, since my neighborhood was officially an evacuated area, security was pretty tight. Sunday, March 29 was the day the river crested, and I decided to celebrate by taking the girls for a long walk. We were not more than 2 blocks from home when I was stopped and asked to show identification. Fortunately, I had stuck my driver’s license in my pocket before we left the house, and there was no problem – but one does have the feeling, at times, of being in a war zone. There was such an eerie quiet that afternoon as we walked up the street …. no cars, no one out in their yard … just the sound of pumps running, helicopters overhead and emergency vehicles off in the distance.

With Easter weekend upon us, I am reminded of God’s many gifts. The gift of life and the gift of community are particularly meaningful to me right now. Many passages of scripture have encouraged me over the past few weeks, but this one – Isaiah 43:2 – stands out among them.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.