2:30 P.M. EST March 23, 2010
The Red River overflows its banks at Lindenwood Park in Fargo, N.D.
by Michael Rieger/FEMA.
View in Photo Gallery
Remembering their experiences with record flooding last year, United
Methodists in North and South Dakota are watching river levels and
The Red River – which crested at 9 feet above flood level March 21 –
has been kept largely under control in Fargo by dikes, but if major
flooding does occur, the church is ready, said the Rev. Debra
Ball-Kilbourne, the bishop’s assistant for disaster response in the
United Methodist Dakotas Annual (regional) Conference.
“We did a lot of training last year, and we’re better
prepared as a result of that training,” she explained.
The conference, which handled 400 long-term flood recovery cases in
North Dakota for 2009, has formed partnerships with the United
Methodist Committee on Relief and local faith groups, as well as with
the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state and city governments.
Training through UMCOR was particularly helpful, Ball-Kilbourne
said. “UMCOR doesn’t just provide stuff so it has to come back time and
time again. It really does prepare you to prepare others, who can
prepare others. That paid off nicely for us.”
Being more prepared also means helping people deal with the stress
of disaster situations. Last year, the Rev. Mark Ellingson was part of
an interfaith committee that dealt with the emotional and spiritual
well-being of flood victims. “Out of that came a recurring theme of
resilience, the ability to bounce back and adapt,” he said.
With assistance from mental health specialists, the committee
developed a PowerPoint presentation and other materials related to
mental health, and it wants to promote the resources widely.
“God created us to be resilient, and we have ways to reawaken that
and recreate it within us,” Ellingson said.
In a March 19 message to the conference, Bishop Deb Kiesey
acknowledged the concerns of church members as warmer temperatures and
melting snow lead to rising waters.
Students fill bags at “Sandbag Central” in Fargo, as the Red River rises
above flood stage.
View in Photo Gallery
“I know that for many of you, this is the
second time in a year you have had to face these worries. I want
you to know that you are not alone in this struggle against nature,”
“The thoughts and prayers of the people of the Dakotas Conference
and across The United Methodist Church are being offered on your
behalf. We stand beside you and offer ourselves and our resources
as you face the days ahead.”
By March 23, the Red River had dropped slightly in Fargo to 36.02
feet, according to the National Weather Service, and it was expected to
continue to recede throughout the week. Flood level is at 18 feet.
FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate visited North Dakota on March 22 to
observe the response to Red River flooding and meet with the governor
and other officials. He had met with officials from Minnesota and South
Dakota two days earlier.
Across the Dakotas, the extent of any flood damage will not be
evident for another two weeks or so. “We are grateful that everything
is holding beautifully,” Ball-Kilbourne said.
Minimal damages are expected in western North Dakota. In the east,
observers are monitoring the ice jams in the Park River. In central
North Dakota, “we are still watching carefully Jamestown and Devil’s
Lake and the reservation areas,” she added. “Those will be the last to
The Rev. Paul Baker, Dakotas disaster response coordinator and
pastor of Evergreen United Methodist Church in Wahpeton, N.D.,
reported widespread overland flooding in both eastern North and South
“The area of North Dakota around the Red River is about as flat as a
pancake,” he explained, “and as of this moment, 12 of North Dakota’s
highways and countless county and township roads have water over them.
Once the water starts moving overland, there is very little to stop
He agreed that preparations resulting from the lessons learned in
2009 have paid off. “Many of the homes that had flood damage from last
year are much better protected this year,” he said. “We still
don’t have any idea of what the damages will be this year, as we still
have a lot of snow on the ground that hasn’t melted yet.”
Baker is optimistic about the situation in Wahpeton, at the head of
the river, but cautioned that the Fargo-Moorhead area is not yet out of
danger. The Red River runs north into Canada and still has not reached
its crest for most of its length, he noted.
Northeastern South Dakota also has the potential of flooding because
the snow cover is heavier than last year. The town of Aberdeen put
out a call for sandbagging help March 22, Baker said.
The biggest concern for the conference is at the United Methodist
camp in Lake Poinsett, S.D. The lake level “was 3 feet over what they
consider to be full” on March 22, Baker said, and it was expected to
keep rising, which will endanger the camp’s cabins.
Camp Director Steve Foss needs volunteers to fill and place about
5,000 sandbags over the weekend of March 27. He can be reached by
telephone at (605) 983-5547 or e-mail at LPC@dakcamps.org.
Donations to UMCOR can be made to U.S. Disaster Response and
designated for UMCOR Advance #901670. For more information, go to UMCOR’s
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.