Vikki and Bruce Johnson were taking a rare breather when I visited them on Wednesday, just minutes before it became apparent the three-mile-long dike in their Moorhead neighborhood would have to be built another foot higher to protect it from the Red River.
“I’m trying to decide if I clean out the basement or wait and see. We’ve gone from ‘it’s not going to get where it’s at’ to ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve got it done,’” Vikki said.
“We’re a lot more organized this time, but we had a lot more warning last time. Because we had record snowfall, we knew we were in trouble in ’97, where they really put the fear in us on Friday, where 39 to 41 (feet), we’ve got to get going.”
Up until then, she says, there was no indication major flooding would be a problem.
“In ’97, we had three weeks to prepare,” said Bruce. “This time we had to get everything done in a week.”
When they started building the dike through their back yard (pictured above), they still didn’t believe things would be as bad as indications now say they will be. “When we started on Saturday, we were like ‘what are we doing out here? It’s still in its river bank.’ Yesterday you saw it coming up and today when I walked the dike, it’s come up. It seems to be real now,” Bruce said.
Tonight, they”re bringing floodlights to the backyard to keep an eye on the dike. They have no real plans to sleep until the river recedes sometime next week. “In ’97 we ended up pooling water in the backyard, and then pumping it out because the dike became so saturated.” That appears to be the neighborhood plan this time, too. At the corner of their cul de sac, the city has dropped off a large pump. All the residents have their own pumps ready, too.
There were a lot of lessons learned in ’97, one of them is the every-person-for-him/herself-plan isn’t going to work. “The city stepped in and had a meeting on Saturday and said, ‘we’re building a continuous dike and everybody’s in,’” Vikki said. But everybody wasn’t in. A nearby neighbor initially refused to build a dike in his backyard, so the neighbors built it for them, after the fire department threatened to build a clay dike across the front yard.
“To me, this is overkill out here,” Bruce said of the sandbag dike that has reached 42 feet. “In ’97 it would’ve been up maybe a foot on the dikes.” This was before the latest flood projection said the river will crest at 41.
Both have been trying to tend to their paying jobs, too. Vikki took time out at midafternoon for a loan closing (she works for Wells Fargo). Bruce, who works for Remax, closed on a home yesterday.
“Was it riverfront property?” I asked. It wasn’t. It was a condo on a second floor.
Though all of the attention is focused on what might happen this weekend, most everybody I’ve talked to is thinking about what comes after the Red River begins to behave better. “That’s the thing,” Bruce acknowledged. “When you’re building this thing, you’ve got lots of hands, which is wonderful, and then they have to get back to work and the difficult thing is to find the volunteers and the time to take it back down again.”
That’s not their idea of how to spend a perfect summer. They’d planned to head to their place at the lake, and relax around the water.