|United Methodist mayor fights Dakota floods|
The swollen Sheyenne River seeps through a dike into the streets of
Valley City, N.D. Mary Lee Nielson, the town’s mayor and a member of
United Methodist Women, called for voluntary evacuations April 14. A
UMNS photo by Mike Moore, FEMA.
A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*
April 15, 2009
A member of United Methodist Women who also is the mayor of her city is fighting rising floodwaters in North Dakota.
On April 14, Mary Lee Nielson asked residents of Valley City, about
60 miles west of Fargo, to voluntarily evacuate the downtown business
district and surrounding area by 6 p.m. the next day. The population of
Valley City is approximately 6,500 to 7,000.
The Rev. Debra Ball-Kilbourne, who is helping coordinate disaster
relief for the United Methodist Dakotas Annual Conference, said the
order came on the 22nd day of sandbagging efforts on the dikes that
ring the city.
“Valley City is one of the areas we’re most concerned about right
now,” she told United Methodist News Service. “It has 11 bridges. All
but one are under water right now.”
Ball-Kilbourne said that Nielson, a lifelong Valley City resident, had
never led in disaster response before but has made “all the right
moves” during the flood crisis.
Volunteers fill thousands of sandbags on April 13. A UMNS photo by Michael Raphael, FEMA.
Authorities decided to request the evacuation upon consultation
with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Weather Service and
U.S. Geological Survey, according to the Valley City Times-Record.
Three breaches in the flood dikes there occurred in the 48-hour period
before the decision was made.
At issue is a combination of rain and snowmelt into the dam and
Sheyenne River, which empties into the Red River, requiring the U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers to release more water than expected from the
Nielson told the Times-Record that while the dikes are at 24 feet,
“river water elevations have never before exceeded 20 feet,” thus
sparking the evacuation. The National Guard is assisting with
flood-related work and security.
Continuous flood threats
Residents of North and South Dakota and Minnesota have been coping
with flood threats since mid-March, and the Red River was expected to
crest a second time at 37 feet on April 17. In an April 13 YouTube
video message, United Methodist Bishop Deborah Kiesey acknowledged that
the threat was not over.
“As some communities and homes are now just mucking out from the
flooding, others are watching and praying for the dikes to hold, and
still others are waiting for the snow to melt and worrying about the
effects of overland flooding,” she said.
Kiesey cited Red Cross statistics showing that, so far, 906 homes
have been damaged in eastern and central North Dakota, 664 homes have
been affected and 187 homes have sustained major damage.
Ball-Kilbourne explained that an ancient lakebed has had an impact
on flooding across North Dakota. West of Valley City in Jamestown,
where she lives, two units of the Army Corps of Engineers, one from
Omaha, Neb., and one from Minneapolis, are monitoring the two major
reservoirs. The engineers, she said, have to let water out quickly as
the snowpack melts. “In order to do that, it pretty much floods towns
down below us.”
These small towns, such as Lisbon, don’t have the infrastructure to
deal with the situation and turn to the churches for help, she pointed
Ball-Kilbourne, a district superintendent, was recently appointed by
Kiesey to a one-year term as the bishop’s assistant for disaster
response. The Rev. Paul Baker continues as the conference’s disaster
UMCOR surveys damage
The denomination also will provide assistance. The Rev. Tom
Hazelwood, who oversees domestic disaster relief for the United
Methodist Committee on Relief, was in the Dakotas April 6-9 to survey
the damage. A blizzard had prevented his arrival the week before. Larry
Powell, an UMCOR consultant, also spent a week in the area. Both the
Dakotas and Minnesota conferences have received initial grants from
“I had an opportunity to fly up the Red River and see where the
flooding is, as well as go out into some of the rural areas that were
flooded,” Hazelwood said. “The river was six miles wide in some areas.”
Rising floodwaters inundate a Valley
About 98 percent of the affected area is farmland, according to
Hazelwood, who noted that flooding had been particularly traumatic for
farmers whose cattle either drowned or were killed by chunks of ice.
He predicted that the full extent of the damage will not be known
until June, but said UMCOR would provide some funding for the recovery
effort. “Many of these folks who got flooded do not have insurance,” he
North Dakota members of Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters,
“which have always worked well together,” have participated in
telephone conference calls every other day to discuss the flood
situation, according to Ball-Kilbourne. Relief and recovery needs will
include case management, cleanup and rebuilding.
Spiritual and emotional care will be part of the recovery for those
who have fought the flooding over a long period. “It is difficult to do
this for days on end,” she said.
Although United Methodists will organize and register their own
volunteer teams, Lutheran Disaster Response will assess affected
communities and take the lead in coordination of cleanup and
rebuilding, she said, and United Methodists will take the lead on case
management. “We’re a pretty small state, so each of the VOAD partners
do what they’ve normally done,” she added.
While it is too early for cleanup in the Fargo-Moorhead area, she
expected that towns like Linton and Beulah may be ready as soon as the
next week or two. In-state volunteers should complete the forms on the
Dakotas Conference Web site at http://www.dakotasumc.nonprofitoffice.com/,
while out-of-state volunteers should contact Lorna Jost, United
Methodist Volunteers in Mission coordinator for the North Central
Jurisdiction, at (605) 692-3390 or send an e-mail to email@example.com.
“We need teams and we’ll need funds,” Ball-Kilbourne said about help from church members. “We need their prayers.”
UMCOR is coordinating donations to assist communities affected by
the Red River flooding. Drop checks in church offering plates or mail
them directly to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. Write
Advance #901670 Domestic Disaster Response, Red River Floods, on the
memo line. Credit-card donations can be made online or by calling (800) 554-8583.
United Methodists also can help with flood relief efforts by donating flood buckets. More information is at http://new.gbgm-umc.org/umcor/getconnected/supplies/flood-bucket/.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
New message from Bishop Deb Kiesey: Dakotas disaster response plan
Valley City evacuates
Flood-threatened city urges vulnerable to leave
United Methodists address Red River threat
Minnesotans near Red River watch and pray
United Methodist Committee on Relief