|River falls, work goes on in North Dakota|
Pipes for a temporary sanitary sewer system rest atop a dike that holds
back floodwaters from the Sheyenne River in front of the Rosebud
Visitor Center in Valley City, N.D. A UMNS photo courtesy of Mary Lee
A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*
May 12, 2009
For five weeks, from March 20 to April 24, residents, volunteers and
the National Guard filled sandbags in Valley City, N.D., to stop the
Sheyenne River from flooding.
students and community members in Valley City, N.D., fill thousands of
sandbags in an effort to hold back floodwaters from the Sheyenne River
in this April 13 file photo. A UMNS file photo by Michael Raphael, FEMA.
By early May, they knew they had succeeded in holding back the water.
“Our river finally went down,” said Avis Richter, city
auditor and a member of Epworth United Methodist Church. “We didn’t go
below flood stage until May 3.”
Across the state, members of the United Methodist
Dakotas Annual Conference, led by Bishop Deborah Kiesey, were among
those battling the flood threat in the Red River Valley this spring
from rain and melting snow.
Debra Ball-Kilbourne, the bishop’s assistant for
disaster response, said the denomination is part of the long-term
recovery groups forming around North Dakota, using a concept called
Resource Agency Flood Team, created after the devastating 1997 flood in
Grand Forks. The team describes itself as a “consortium of agencies
devoted to ‘teaming’ resources in an effort to help flood victims
Directors of the United Methodist Committee on Relief
approved a $100,000 grant for the Dakotas Conference for its relief and
recovery efforts. The conference, which estimates that more than
$250,000 will be needed for flood recovery, had received a $10,000
initial grant from the relief agency.
“We’re still in the very early stages,” Ball-Kilbourne said.
Fighting the swollen river
In Valley City, about 60 miles west of Fargo, Richter
and Mayor Mary Lee Nielson, also a member of Epworth, were among the
officials who led the effort to force back the swollen river. In the
end, the high-water mark of 20.6 feet broke a record set in the 1800s,
but the dikes held.
“There was so much water north of us in the watershed
area that had to come through,” Richter explained. Some of the nearly
7,000 residents and about 400 National Guard were among the volunteers
building the barricades or “walking the dikes” to make sure the
Epworth United Methodist Church, itself in the flood
plain, stayed open to serve the volunteers. “We became the
kitchen for the Salvation Army,” she said. “I felt our church played a
very vital role and one I’m very proud of.”
Epworth’s pastor, the Rev. Dan Bader, often called to offer support, she added. “He prayed for us every single day.”
Despite the physical exhaustion, Richter believes the
Valley City community held together during the flood battle. “We are a
strong, strong people here,” she declared.
The work is not over. Main Street – where the sewer
system collapsed – remains closed, although a temporary fix is in
place. “We’re working on getting that (system) replaced this summer,
which will be a big project,” Richter said.
Besides the sewer project, about 15 percent of the
roads must be rebuilt and Nielson would like to shore up the temporary
dikes in a more attractive way. “Valley City used to be called the city
beautiful,” she said “We don’t qualify now.”
On May 14-15, the Dakotas Annual Conference will
sponsor an initial training for flood team caseworkers and
appraisers at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Jamestown. Another
training is set for June.
Besides the Salvation Army, United Methodists are working with Catholic
Charities, Lutheran Disaster Response, the Red Cross, the United Way,
the United Church of Christ and Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and other
groups on recovery efforts. “Our emphasis is you can get more done if
you don’t worry about who gets the credit,” Ball-Kilbourne said.
from the James River threatens homes in Jamestown, N.D., in this April
26 file photograph. A UMNS file photo by Michael Raphael, FEMA.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has disaster recovery centers in Valley City, Jamestown, Fargo, Lisbon and Minot.
As of May 5, the federal agency still had more than 400
recovery personnel working in North Dakota, along with another 50 from
the U.S. Small Business Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers. Some 3,356 state residents in 33 counties had registered for
One of the first towns hit by flooding, Beulah, is now
into long-term recovery, according to the Rev. Valerie Reinhiller, the
conference’s relief coordinator for western North Dakota. About 100
homes were affected, along with city parks, and damage ranged from
water in garages to basement cave-ins.
An unmet needs committee for Beulah, the nearby town of
Hazen and Mercer County is planning to provide case management to help
people get funds and start the process of rebuilding. “The community is
working together extremely well. It’s very ecumenical,” Reinhiller
In Linton, a town of about 1,100 in Emmons County, more
than 100 homes were damaged in an area where a lot of elderly and
low-income residents live.
Farmers lose cattle
Farmers also suffered in the flooding, particularly in
Emmons County, where one farmer lost more than 100 head of cattle. “A
lot of calves have been lost because of the flooding,” Reinhiller
added. “Farmers are trying to figure out what they’re going to do and
how they’re going to put their livelihood back together.”
Trauma can be an issue. Providing spiritual and emotional care is part
of the recovery process for the Dakotas Conference. “It is very, very
hard to keep up the effort for so long without really showing a lot of
stress,” Ball-Kilbourne said.
workers rebuild county road 67 near Jamestown, N.D., after it was
washed out. A UMNS file photo by Michael Rieger, FEMA.
In Fargo, for example, “it took 80,000 people to
save a community of 90,000,” she said. “When you pull that kind of
massive endeavor together, the victims are the ones standing in shock.
And some of them did lose their homes.”
Cleanup teams are needed from outside the conference,
according to Ball-Kilbourne. “There are millions of sandbags throughout
the state to be removed,” she said. Volunteer teams can register with
Lorna Jost, United Methodist Volunteers in Mission coordinator for the
North Central Jurisdiction, at (605) 692-3390 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief is
coordinating donations to assist communities affected by the Red River
flooding. Donors may 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)
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or email@example.com.
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