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Volunteers reach MN


"The volunteers saved our home. There is no way we could have done this ourselves."

—Bob Bergland

In the quiet little town of Roseau, MN, Bob Bergland and 22 volunteers dramatically saved the Bergland's house.

Overland flooding in June smashed through the walls of Bob and Helen Bergland's finished basement, knocking out the supports. Soon water completely filled the basement and began to enter the main floor. When Bob -- former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture under President Jimmy Carter -- was able to return to his home after being evacuated, he noticed the basement ceiling beginning to sag.

He feared the weight would cause the other walls to collapse, destroying his home.

As water was slowly pumped from the basement, Bob waded through waist-high water to replace the supports. And 22 volunteers -- Baptists, Lutherans, Mennonites, and other denominations -- carried an estimated 3,000 five-gallon bucket loads of mud and sheet rock up from the basement.

"The volunteers saved our home," said Bob, now in his 70s. "There is no way we could have done this ourselves."

Like most people in Roseau, "Bob and Helen did not have flood insurance because they were not in the flood plain," explained Melanie Josephson, Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) Coordinator for Minnesota.

With help from LDR and other faith-based groups, the Berglands and others in northwestern Minnesota will spend this July 4th cleaning, rebuilding, and counting their blessings. Two floods devastated 13 counties there in June, displacing families and destroying thousands of acres of crops.

Church World Service and its member denominations are planning to help residents make a long-term recovery.

According to the Rev. Pastor Cheryl Berg, a Lutheran pastor, many denominations are working together. "There's been a wonderful spirit of cooperation. It has worked very well."

Berg described a family whose house was hit by an 8-foot wave. They lost their fields, house, car - nearly everything except for their cats who were floating on sofa cushions. "They were completely wiped right off their feet. They just literally got out with the clothes on their backs, and their cats."

In Roseau, more than half the population of 2,500 people evacuated their homes. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of Saint Paul worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to build temporary housing for the displaced families. National Guard troops and countless volunteers piled sandbags. Salvation Army workers from Minneapolis fed volunteers and helped evacuate residents.

Despite the hardships caused by the floods, people are very thankful, according to Father Bob LaPlante of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Ross, in Roseau County. He said it was "a miracle" that no one was killed in the floods and that "there's been a lot of good."

Father LaPlante has seen people helping each other and even reconciling with one another after years of conflict. He has also noticed more of what he describes as "an ecumenical spirit" within the community. Still, he notes the sorrow felt by everyone over the loss of homes and farms, "there's been a lot of tears."

Now that the river waters have receded, cleanup is well underway. In Mahnomen, several counties south of Roseau, Darvin and Terry Schoenborn are busy working alongside the Salvation Army of Fargo, North Dakota, passing out cleaning kits, and helping the elderly and disabled get back on track. Terry, whose husband is also the mayor of the town, called churches early on to organize groups of volunteers.

That was six days ago, and there is still much work to be done and dwindling numbers of volunteers.

In many of the towns, including Mahnomen and Roseau, at least 90 percent of

the population was affected, and there aren't a lot of volunteers because people are busy taking care of their own houses and businesses.

"We're just taking it day by day," she said, and added that if she had more volunteers the work would be finished more quickly. "Our own people are starting to get tired," said Schoenborn. However, she hopes to finish by the end of the week.

About 20 families in Mahnomen were forced to leave their homes. The American Red Cross set up a temporary shelter for them in the high school. Since then, many have moved to a local casino. Two bridges in the area are still closed and will not reopen until they are inspected.

In all, 1,500 residents in 13 counties have registered for federal disaster aid. Many are farmers who lost crops including wheat, barley, and bluegrass at a cost of $100 per acre.

In Roseau, farmers are donating hay and feed to fellow farmers in need.

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