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ND churches lead recovery

One rainy morning earlier this month, Rev. Lee Gale noticed water quickly collecting in roadside drainage ditches as he drove to his northeastern North Dakota church.

BY HEATHER MOYER | GRAFTON, N.D. | April 22, 2004

"This has really been a whole community effort."

—Rev. Lee Gale

One rainy morning earlier this month, Rev. Lee Gale noticed water quickly collecting in roadside drainage ditches as he drove to his northeastern North Dakota church. When he drove back along the same route that afternoon, the water was crossing the road.

"I knew then that it was getting severe and something had to be done, so I started making calls," said Gale, who serves both The Federated Church (Presbyterian Church USA/United Methodist Church) in Grafton and Knox Presbyterian in Minto.

Gale's phone call to a nearby Methodist church helped bring 100 United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) flood buckets to his area before the flooding was over. He also helped round up more volunteers for the area's sandbagging efforts. Teams of residents were sandbagging to keep the floodwaters at bay. "I knew we were ready as we could be for the flooding then, but I also started thinking ahead to what we would need later," said Gale.

More than four inches of rain fell in about 24 hours, severely damaging hundreds of homes in the counties of Grand Forks, Pembina, and Walsh. Damage estimates totaled over $4 million.

Since the flooding, Gale's church in Grafton has helped coordinate relief efforts in the area, doing everything from referring flood families to appropriate agencies, to serving as a home base for cleanup volunteers.

Just last week, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) awarded a grant to Gale's church to help with flood relief. The grant from PDA came in part because the flooded counties did not receive a federal disaster declaration, which would have given federal aid to those affected. Gale said his work is mostly focused on raising money. "Since we're not going to get any (Federal Emergency Management Agency) funds, we're trying to solicit funds for those in need," he said.

The weather in northeastern North Dakota is still fairly cold this time of year, said Gale. And with many people having lost their water heaters or heating systems, monetary assistance is crucial. Gale added that money is also needed for those who've had to stay in motels longer than expected.

To help distribute the PDA grant, Gale said he's calling upon Lutheran Social Services to assess where the money is needed. "This has really been a whole community effort," he said, adding that the school across from his church lets volunteers use its showers and borrow buses if they need transportation.

The relief assistance has come from many other faith groups as well, including UMCOR, Lutheran Disaster Response, Mennonite Disaster Service and The Salvation Army. A crew from Jewish Disaster Response Group (or Nechama) drove in from out of state to help with the cleanup.

The damage is widespread throughout the three counties. The area is a farming community, and Gale said the flood will most likely have an effect on the growing season. "Right now there's still a lot of standing water in fields," he said. "We needed some water, but this was hard rain on frozen ground."

Gale said the independent streak that many people in the Dakotas are known for concerns him a little. "Not everyone will ask for help even if they need it," he said. "But more people are coming forward as time goes by."

At this point, Gale said much of the initial cleanup is finished. He said they're entering a "what do we need now" stage of the recovery effort. "This will take some time," said Gale. "We're just trying to get people back to their normal lives."

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