Barbara's Red Cross adventures continue in Fargo, North Dakota
By Barbara WoodIn Fargo, North Dakota, they are just now cleaning up the last of the sandbags and clay dikes the residents of this community used to hold back the waters of the Red River and its tributaries this spring.
In late March, just as the daffodils in my garden were fading and the cherry trees beginning to blossom, I flew to Fargo, where a high temperature of 18 degrees was predicted that day.
The American Red Cross needed volunteers to help those who might be affected by the imminent flooding of the Red River, which runs the length of the state, on the border between North Dakota and Minnesota.
My aunt, Vinnie Biberdorf, a long-time Red Cross volunteer and currently the co-chair of disaster volunteers for the Silicon Valley Red Cross chapter, for which I volunteer, loaned me cold weather gear. As I scrambled to get ready, I told her that it would be fun if we both could get sent to work a Red Cross disaster together.
"I can't go," she said. "You always have all my stuff!"
In the week before my arrival, the residents of Fargo and nearby communities, which have a combined population of nearly 200,000, filled and placed an estimated six million sandbags. They dug up soccer fields and filled trucks with clay for building taller dikes, some reaching far over the heads of those building them.
Thousands of people took off from school and worked to help their neighbors protect themselves from the record high waters — and their hard work paid off. The dikes held the flooding to a minimum, despite the river cresting at 22 feet above flood level.
The local residents proved that being prepared for a disaster can make all the difference.
Because Fargo was badly flooded in 1997, and had experienced a number of smaller floods since then, the community was well prepared with sandbags and materials for building clay dikes, and the equipment and plans for volunteer labor needed to build them.
Once the dikes were built, the local police and the National Guard patrolled them 24 hours a day, calling for backup at the first sign of a leak.
Even so, by April 3, the Red Cross had utilized 1,272 workers in the area. They had opened 10 shelters, served more than 65,000 meals, supplied close to 5,000 health consultations, and provided 44 emergency-response vehicles, which were bringing food and supplies where needed.
They fed the volunteers as they sandbagged, and brought warm drinks to those guarding the dikes deep into the night.
My job was to drive into flooded areas after the water had receded to estimate how much damage had been done to residences. My partner, a retired 6-foot-2-inch military pilot, and I drove hundreds of miles through a starkly beautiful countryside covered with snow, ice and water.
For the first time I realized what "flat" really means. Much of North Dakota was once a prehistoric lake, which left behind rich soil and miles and miles of perfectly flat terrain when it dried up.
Find out how to help the Red Cross prepare the local community for a disaster by visiting the Silicon Valley Red Cross Chapter Website at: siliconvalley-redcross.org .
Barbara Wood is a freelance writer, photographer and Red Cross volunteer from Woodside. Her column runs the third week of the month.