“Can-do” Spirit Abounds in Wake of Flooding

Contributed By Heather Whittle Wrigley, Church News and Events

  • 29 June 2011

Minot, North Dakota, USA, (population 41,000) is beginning recovery efforts as water recedes from record-breaking flooding over the weekend.

“We’re rubbing shoulders and smiling, and ready for whatever comes next.” –Janelle Williams, member of the Minot First Ward

As water from the swollen Souris River in Minot, North Dakota, USA, recedes, residents are revving up to help with the more than 4,000 homes in need of major repair as a result of flooding damage.

Heavy rains and a record snowpack combined over the last several weeks to create record-breaking floods along the river, and on Friday, June 24, 2011, the Souris broke a 130-year-old high-water record by nearly four feet (1.2 m). The water broke over and through levees, swamping the city with 15 feet (4.6 m) of water.

No deaths or serious injuries have been reported, and all members and missionaries are safe, but the disaster is far from over. City officials estimate it could take more than two weeks for the water to recede completely.

More than 12,000 residents of Minot have been displaced, and water and power services have been restricted for the city and other surrounding communities. At least 4,000 homes were seriously flooded—75 member homes flooded up to the roof, while others had partial flooding.

Two wards are located in the affected area. Members not affected by the flooding are hosting other members who have been evacuated.

Church leaders are assessing needs and are assisting members with basic commodities. Local leaders have met with Church leaders in Salt Lake City by telephone.

Two semi-trailers are being sent from Church headquarters. They will be used by the Salvation Army to store food. Volunteers are on their way to assist in setting up command centers—one in north Minot, one in south Minot. The two parts of the town have been separated by the water-filled valley between them. On Wednesday, 400 water bottles with filters arrived for distribution. Another truck full of food boxes and cleanup kits is on its way.

Janelle Williams is the wife of Minot First Ward bishop Tyson D. Williams. She has been staying at home since the flooding, fielding phone calls and sending members eager to help to those who are in need of service.

“It’s just a ‘can-do’ spirit,” she said, both of the service residents did in anticipating the flooding and of what they are doing now, as the floodwaters begin to ebb. “On every corner people with trucks and trailers are just pitching in and helping, and when cleanup time comes it’s still going to be the same.”

Minot is a river valley, bordered by hills on two sides. For weeks before the flooding, rising water levels spurred residents to install basement sump pumps and to sandbag their homes. As water threatened to breach the levees, residents were given only 15 minutes to evacuate.

With the city essentially cut in half by the water that has flooded the valley floor, there is only one safe road between north and south Minot, and that is now lined with sandbags. Right now it takes about two hours to travel from one side to the other due to the heavy traffic volume. Residents have been asked not to travel unless they have to.

In largely residential north Minot, a temporary medical center has been established at Lewis and Clark Elementary School. The nearby towns of Burlington, Sawyer, and Velva, which are located downriver of Minot, have also been evacuated.

Despite the thousands of evacuees, however, the two local shelters have only taken in a few hundred people.

“Friends, co-workers, family—everyone’s reaching out to take people in,” Sister Williams said. “We’re rubbing shoulders and smiling, and ready for whatever comes next.”

LDS Humanitarian Disaster Response Manager Nate Leishman said cleanup will take at least a month, once the waters completely recede, which could take weeks.

“It’s great to see neighbor helping neighbor,” he said, commenting that many families have offered shelter to two or three families. “There is a great sense of unity.”