Posted 3/21/17 (Tue)
By Jack Dura
Farmer Staff Writer
A schoolbus eased to a stop along the side of the street on Hackberry Drive South in Fargo.
A few dozen track and field athletes jumped out, myself among them, and we hit the ground running.
It was time to fight a flood.
Picture it: March 2009, Fargo, N.D. Snow is melting, rain is falling, rivers are rising. Teenagers, college students, adults young and old were turning out to battle what would go down as a hugely historic flood.
For myself and the track team, we tossed sandbags in lines for a few hours on that south Fargo street before heading home with our coaches’ blessing.
Hours before, most of us had been sandbagging somewhere else, opting for flood fighting instead of class, a choice our teachers gave us.
And for the athletes, we got back before the final bell, only to go to head out again in place of practice.
Let’s do this.
Most of the Fargo North Spartans were either filling sandbags or tossing them down lines of people stretching from pallets on the street to burly men laying them in a dike.
Fargo’s news became devoted solely to flood coverage. When we weren’t sandbagging, we were watching the morning flood commission meetings or “Dancing With the Stars” at night.
My mother was sick in bed with pneumonia. Her job was to pray for everyone.
We brought everything in our basement to the ground floor except the gun safe. Mounted ungulates sat in our living room and hung in the kitchen. Chairs were everywhere.
Dad brought his canned goods and sealed food items to the garage, as frisky as a prairie dog in fresh dirt at the thought of actually using his apocalyptic supply.
The Weather Channel asked the people of the Red River Valley for photos of the flood’s impact.
I sent them one of Dad cheesing next to his survivalist sundries.
Snow continued to melt. Rain again fell. A levee burst overnight at Oak Grove School, sending in the troops.
From our porch, we watched a helicopter deliver a huge HESCO barrier to fight the water.
Fargo’s deputy mayor donned a yellow safety vest he didn’t remove until after the flood.
Mayor Denny Walaker suggested people shower together to conserve water. He was a man of well-needed chuckles in desperate times.
Walaker went down in Fargo history as pretty much a folk hero. When all seemed lost and the naysayers said evacuate, Walaker said no.
“There’s just no way I could tell the people of the city of Fargo, after all the work that they’d done, to evacuate,” he said.
My eyes glisten whenever I read that quote.
Flooded basements. Submerged farms. Displaced families. Six million sandbags. Sand everywhere.
It could have been worse. Grand Forks evacuated in 1997 in the largest civic exodus since the Civil War.
While our home was largely safe, though we lived near the Red, pallets of sandbags came to our street. Unchecked, the floodwater would have lapped at our driveway at 42 feet.
The river ultimately crested at 40.84 feet. At one point I recall someone saying the flood may stretch to the shores of historic Lake Agassiz.
Water, water everywhere, but it went away. Walaker said he’d buy everyone a beer when it was over.
What a time to be alive.