Leaving Riverview Circle

Deep within a story in the Star Tribune about preparations for flooding in the Moorhead area today, you might have caught the item that Bruce and Vikki Johnson of that city have decided to take the buyout and are leaving their home for places unknown (I had relayed the news two weeks ago on my Twitter account).

Hard-core readers of News Cut might have thought, “how do I know those people?”

This is how:

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The Johnsons were one of three families on Riverview Circle who I followed for 10 days in ’09. This picture, taken by Jeff Thompson, remains (at least for me) the iconic photograph of the 2009 Red River flood. It contains more than 1,000 words.

Over the years, Bruce had become an expert at building dikes and fighting the Red River, but he and his wife realized this year that perhaps the climatologists and meteorologists are wrong, that floods where there were none before aren’t going to be unusual.

Here’s a bit of a backstory on how those 10 days of unusual coverage happened. The neighborhood, including my hotel, had been evacuated, early in the fight. I had nowhere to go and I was feeling bad that I’d “lost the story.” The neighborhood I had intended to follow had been given up for dead by the authorities. A pre-dawn tour told me everything I needed to know. The night before, I had joined a sandbag line for the first time in my life. It was at the Johnsons.

end_of_line.jpg

After being kicked out of the motel, I was sitting in a parking lot, writing an update for News Cut, and sending an e-mail to the boss that it was time for me to come home, when suddenly an e-mail arrived:


Bob – Bruce and I are still here. Pumping the water from the backyard over the dike – so far so good. The basement took on a little water yesterday but currently we have it under control. Looking for a 1 inch plug – do you happen to have one on you.

Stop over – the coffee is on!

It was from Vikki Johnson and, sure enough, when I sped back into the neighborhood, there was just one kitchen light on in the neighborhood. The Johnsons had stayed behind and hadn’t given up. They gave me coffee and made me breakfast.

Over the next several days, they welcomed me into the home and let me come and go as if I were family. Their garage was the neighborhood community center where exhausted neighbors could rest before attacking the river again.

johnson_garage.jpg

That the Johnsons have decided to leave should tell you everything you need to know about the psyche of Moorhead as another flood approaches.

I didn’t get a chance to see them when I was on Riverview Circle earlier this week, so I don’t know what their plans are (I know they had a lake place so they may be heading there until better weather). They’ve got to be out of the house by the end of the month, and a month from now, the chances are, the home they worked so hard to save may be part of the Red River.

Their departure is a big blow for Riverview Circle. Some neighborhood on higher ground is about to become very lucky.

  • Will Young

    I went up for a day of sandbagging in ’09 and spent it in the backyard/garage of the NDSU golf coach (but lost their names on the way back to the Twin Cities unfortunately). Looking at this picture seemed eerily familiar and a quick search of the interwebs confirms that this was the house to which I was sent.

    Good luck, Johnsons. It was great spending a day with you. Best of luck going forward.