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Six year water rise in lake produces continuing disaster

BY DARYL LANG | DEVILS LAKE, ND | August 19, 1998

DEVILS LAKE, ND (August 19, 1998) -- Threatened by flooding last September, Tammy Baker and her family had to

move several miles away from the rising waters of Devils Lake, ND. The move

took them away from their farmland, trees, and friends, but not their

house. Like some of the other residents forced to move away from the lake,

the Bakers had their home moved to a new site.

"My neighbors had to move a couple years ago, but I didn't understand it

until it happened to me," Baker said. Now that her former property has been

cleared and is partially under water, "it's very sad to go back," she


Shortly after moving, Baker began working for Lutheran Disaster Response

(LDR) helping other families with similar challenges. "It's something I

think I'm qualified for," she said, laughing.

Since flooding began in 1993, Devils Lake has risen more than 20 feet, and

continues to rise, forcing hundreds of people to abandon their homes and


Tim Heisler, director of Ramsey County Emergency management, said the help

from response organizations like LDR at Devils Lake has been outstanding.

"You name it, they've been here," Heisler said. "This has been a long six

years of a disaster."

During that time, eroding roads and land have made street maps obsolete. To

avoid running aground, fishermen boating on the lake now carry charts that

locate submerged houses. Rising water continues to threaten fences, utility

poles, homes and families. And while theories abound, no one knows exactly

why the lake keeps growing, or when it will stop.

"It's bizarre. I don't know how you'd describe the situation," said Gail

Erickson, director of the North Dakota Disaster Recovery Coordinating Team,

that includes members of religious and secular response groups. "We don't

know when it's going to end."

On the south-east side of the lake, flooding claims new land every day at

the Native American Spirit Lake Nation that has been declared a disaster

area, said Frank Black Cloud, Spirit Lake Tribe emergency manager.

About 400 families on the reservation have been forced to move, Black Cloud

said, and 85 manufactured homes donated by the Federal Emergency Management

Agency (FEMA) will ease only some of the problems.

Black Cloud praised the work of LDR, which helped bring in urgently-needed

supplies like food, clothes, blankets, generators and cleaning equipment,

as well as organize social activities like a Christmas party.

"They've been great," said Black Cloud. "Whatever we needed, if they had

it, they brought it to us. We couldn't ask for a better organization."

Around the rest of the lake, more than 186 homes have been moved out of the

path of the rising water since 1993, with perhaps 30 more to be moved this

year, Heisler said.

Compounding the problems, some homes that are not threatened by flooding

face costly sewer and water system damage caused by increased underground

water pressure.

Because many homes and farms do not have adequate flood insurance, one of

the biggest needs for flood survivors is money for rebuilding, said Jenni

Turbiville of Disaster Outreach, a state project funded by FEMA.

And with long-standing communities being washed away, the emotional impact

of having to leave the land has meant just as much as the financial

struggle for many families.

"That's been real difficult for a lot of folks," Erickson said. "Some of

them can't even talk about it."

Posted August 19, 1998

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