Despite rising flood waters, some residents are staying put

Breaking ice
Residents in this neighborhood were using several kinds of trucks to break up the ice on the street that started to form from knee-high floodwaters.
MPR Photo/Ambar Espinoza

Scott Olson walks across multiple backyards in his neighborhood to get to his house. There's no other dry way to do that. He's been trying to find volunteers to help with sandbagging, but so far, no luck. Even though he and his neighborhood desperately need help, they are on their own. The streets are completely covered in water.

"This is the level of the river," Olson says. "Whatever the river gets, it'll creep in here so whatever level we have out here, that's the level the river is."

Canoeing sandbags
People were canoeing sandbags and other supplies up and down the street to different homes.
MPR Photo/Ambar Espinoza

He also says some of this water may be seeping from drains that go out to the river.

Olson and his neighbors have gotten a late start in their sandbagging effort because the city didn't expect this area to flood. Now, he's had to build a sandbag wall to protect his house to about 44 feet high.

During the 1997 flood, this township north of Moorhead was undeveloped. It's a few miles away from the river and the floodwaters didn't touch the area.

Olson's 4-year-old house sits at about 41 feet, above 1997 floodwater levels. So surely, he thought, he'd never have to worry about any flood problems. And so did his neighbor Melissa Kvelavog.

"Well it wasn't even a question, because that's just the coulee over there, that's not even the river," Kvelavog said. "That's what we understood anyway. And we didn't have to get flood insurance because they said never, this would never go and all of a sudden here we are with no flood insurance."

Knee-deep floods
The streets of this neighborhood are completely covered in floodwaters that have begun to freeze from the cold. Some areas are knee-deep.
MPR Photo/Ambar Espinoza

Kvelavog and her husband, who is wheelchair bound, evacuated because they knew it would be difficult to get out with three children. She's back on this day to make sure the generator is on so that sump pumps continue to work. People in this neighborhood pulled all-nighters to move their furniture to upper levels of their houses.

City officials couldn't get gravel to them fast enough, so Scott Olson says they took matters into their own hands. They bought gravel from a local company and had it delivered.

"They were out here within minutes after we asked them, so they did a nice job," Olson says. "Everybody on this finger paid for their own sand. I'm sure we average between 25 to 30 yards, I'd say a minimum of $500 per driveway."

As neighbors finish building sandbag walls for one home, they continue to fill sandbags and canoe them up and down the street to shore up other homes. That's what Michele and Darin Kuzel are doing, and they don't have plans to stop.

Kuzel family
The Kuzels are among many families who continue to fill sandbags to help neighbors build a short sandbag levee.
MPR Photo/Ambar Espinoza

"If we need to throw a couple of extra sandbags, we have a lot of extra sandbags leftover and we'll just keep building higher if we need to," Darin Kuzel said.

Kurzel said he never thought in a million years he would be doing this when he bought the house.

"We looked at a lot of photo albums of the 1997 flood of this particular area and it was nowhere near here so we figured we were high and dry with the hundred-year flood," Kurzel said. "But this is a five-hundred-year flood and, go figure, they were 12 years apart. So we're stuck."

Suddenly, in the middle of all this, Scott Olson gets news that his neighbor's basement is flooding and he's sick.

Olson, family, and neighbors have been building sandbag walls throughout his entire neighborhood. The flooding in his neighborhood came as a surprise. This area didn't flood during the 1997 flood.
MPR Photo/Ambar Espinoza

Olson and his neighbors begin to brainstorm on how to help. Olson says his neighbor didn't want to leave his house, but now he's reconsidering.

Olson says everyone looks after one another like family. They're unflappable.

One of the neighbors walks up to the sand gravel mound and sticks a big American flag at the top of it. And here's what they all have to say about that.

These Minnesotans say they have the time, the sand, and each other to do what it takes to protect their homes.

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