There for the Long Haul
June 24, 2011—Bulging rivers in North and South Dakota are expected to crest this weekend at unprecedented levels, but with that climactic event, the challenges to the surrounding communities will be far from over. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is preparing for a response that will span months if not years.
Floodwaters already had breached the dikes of the Mouse River in North Dakota last Wednesday, chasing 11,000 families from their homes in the town of Minot. It was the second time in three weeks that thousands of residents had had to abandon their homes just ahead of the spilling river.
By Thursday, it was reported that nearly 5,000 homes in Minot had up to 6 feet of water in them. “The water will not recede quickly,” said Rev. Lee Gale, Dakotas Conference disaster response coordinator for North Dakota.
In South Dakota, evacuations were ordered along the Missouri River, including 1,300 families in the capital, Pierre. “Unfortunately, we continue to experience tremendous rainfalls, creating more and more difficulty,” said Rev. Kathy Chesney, Gale’s counterpart in South Dakota.
It will be August or September before the floodwaters in the Dakotas are expected to recede so that homeowners can return to their water-soaked homes and assess damages and the need for repairs or rebuilding.
A Slow Rolling Emergency
“I received my first 2011 flood forecast for the Red River Valley on December 5, 2010,” Gale said, at which time it was already predicted that this would be a “record-setting year.”
Preparations were quickly made with the help of volunteers and the National Guard. “Many of our United Methodist churches sent volunteers to assist in the preparation. Our churches in Fargo housed workers, made sandwiches, and came together as a team to support one another,” Gale said.
So effective were these efforts that when the Red River rose above flood stage, it was deemed a “non-event,” even though agricultural fields suffered extensive damage and, according to reports, Gale said, only 30 percent were left workable.
Similarly, Chesney indicated, “South Dakota has been battling flooding across the state since early March. It began with record snows impacting already full lakes in the eastern part of the state.” A United Methodist camp, Lake Poinsett, was threatened, but spared, while in other areas, communities were becoming isolated due to flooded roads.
“In early May,” Chesney said, “twenty-eight South Dakota counties received a Presidential Disaster Declaration for Public Assistance.” Flooding had already seriously impacted more than 42 percent of all the counties in the state.
At about that time, flooding was predicted along the Missouri River. Neighboring Montana and North Dakota received a year’s worth of rainfall in a matter of weeks, Chesney indicated. And the record snow-pack in Montana also began to melt.
Gale had thought his state was in the clear after the “non-event” in North Dakota early in the spring, but the melting Montana snow—which is far from over—and the rains created new problems this week, including great stress on Garrison Dam, just above the capital, Bismarck, on the Missouri River.
“The gates of the dam had never been opened before and all of a sudden, they had to release 125,000 csf immediately,” Gale explained. “There had been no flooding in the Bismarck area in more than 40 years. When the water from the dam arrived, more than 12,000 families had to be evacuated.”
At Faith United Methodist Church in Minot, the Rev. Debra Ball-Kilbourne has been looking out for her congregation and neighbors, while dealing directly with the threat of the floodwaters. Volunteers helped her remove items from the church’s food pantry to other pantries or storage. By Friday, it became apparent that the church itself would be consumed by the floodwaters and lost.
“She and a small group had prayers on the front steps when the reality became apparent,” Gale reported.
Volunteers have helped with sandbagging and local church members have supplied them with nourishment. At Pierre First United Methodist Church, congregants prepared 1,000 meals a day for volunteers and National Guard members.
“By day three of this emergency,” Chesney said, “two ladies from Pierre First United Methodist Church had baked, from scratch, 8,000 cookies!” And, she said, “The number of hours that United Methodists have volunteered to help our neighbors in need has surpassed 25,000 hours.”
UMCOR has supplied the conference with health kits, cleaning buckets, and other relief supplies and has been in constant communication with Chesney and Gale.
Gale said that Cathy Earl, UMCOR Disaster Response executive, “has been my personal support. Cathy calls me regularly to see what we need and what UMCOR may be able to do for North Dakota. I know that should a need arise that UMCOR can assist us with, I can call her at any time.”
Earl indicated that UMCOR is indeed ready to assist the Dakotas Conference and she noted that “the real work will begin once the floodwaters recede.”
Prayers and Care
This single flood event may last, from the first overflowing drops to the last nail hammered into a repaired home, two years.
“I would like to ask for your prayers for strength, perseverance, and resilience for our conference and for all who have experienced disaster and devastation,” Gale said.
In addition to the Dakotas Annual Conference, UMCOR is currently responding to flood emergencies in another 13 conferences across the United States, as well as to the catastrophic fallout from this spring’s record-setting tornadoes and storms.
Your gift to US Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #901670, allows UMCOR to respond to communities such as those in the Dakotas Conference that are experiencing devastating loss and many challenging months of relief and recovery ahead. The sheer number of concurrent major emergencies in 2011 has no equal. Please give generously.