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Midwest girds for major flooding

As communities prepare, disaster response organizations set response plans

BY SIMON GRAF | FARGO, ND | March 14, 2010

Facing a forecast that the Red River could be at major flood stage by the end of this week, Saturday morning members of the Fargo, ND, City Commission approved almost $1.2 million in clay levees and flood protection equipment.

According to the National Weather Service, the Red River passed 18-feet Saturday morning and is expected to reach at least 33-feet within the week. Major flood stage is 30-feet in the Morehead - Fargo area. Last year the river rose to a record 40.84 feet.

With major flooding along the Red River predicted in just a few days and the potential of major flooding in other midwestern states, disaster response organizations are getting ready. Preparations include warning residents of flood-prone areas to review their disaster plans and working with volunteers to make sure aid can be brought quickly if needed.

Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR), said its response is based on flood advisories or warnings that have been posted in more than a dozen states with government forecasts calling for a greater than 90 percent chance of flooding along the Red River of the North and Iowa river gauges that have been recorded at a moderate flood stage. Residents of North Dakota and Minnesota have been warned about the potential for trouble.

"The blessing of these early forecasts is that it provides extra time to get ready," the Rev. Kevin A. Massey wrote. He said that congregations can prepare for flooding and mitigate any losses that come from such a disaster.

At the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC), volunteers were involved even prior to the flooding forecasts by sandbagging potential riverside trouble spots along rivers such as the Red River that could be a problem.

"What we've done is notify churches that the Red River could be pretty bad this year," Bill Adams, director of disaster response services, said last week. "We kind of watch it, kind of see what they're anticipating in terms of amount" of flooding.


Mike Nevergall, assistant director for domestic disaster response for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said he and other officials will be traveling to North Dakota's Fargo-Moorhead area to meet with officials there to go over preparations in case of flooding. The ELCA has also been involved with sending out information to congregations about taking the necessary precautions against flooding, including purchasing flood insurance.


"If you're in an area that's prone to flooding, review plans as a family and household and with your congregation, members of the community and residents," Nevergall said.


Unlike other disasters such as the recent catastrophic earthquakes in Chile and Haiti, floods in the Midwest during the last few years are becoming nearly a yearly occurrence.

"It's obviously related to the climate, although exactly what the technical reasons are a grand debate," Adams said. 


Massey attributed it to soggy and saturated ground from heavy fall rain followed by heavy winter snow.

"As things begin to thaw, rivers and streams rise quickly, and there is no place for all the water to go," he said.

In addition to preparations for flooding in 2010, the organizations also are asking people to also think of areas already affected by previous years' flooding.  Nevergall said that after recent floods, communities along the Red River Valley have been involved in buyouts of land in flood-prone areas. Those places have been turned into greenspace in the hopes that future floods will not cause as large of problems for communities as they have faced in the past.


For communities that are "regularly in the line of fire from flooding, the more steps they can take to mitigating future issues, the better off they'll be," Nevergall said.


Adams said CRWRC has long-term construction sites in Cedar Rapids, IA and Munster, IN. Its groups also are involved in going door-to-door, assessing needs in suburban Atlanta, following last year's flooding.

"That's when we really get more involved," Adams said.

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