Editor’s Note: With winter approaching and housing scarce, North Dakota residents face mountains of cleanup from seven weeks of flooding that have led to the worst disaster in state history. In Minot, a city of 40,000, the flood has destroyed 4,100 homes. In nearby Burlington, more than a third of the town of 1,100 is under water. The catastrophe has left 8,000 to 9,000 people homeless in central North Dakota. This is the first of several updates.
Intensive rebuilding of homes will begin in March and continue through the summer. To volunteer for this much-needed effort in Minot, contact rebuild coordinators Judy and Gary Roed at Vincent United Methodist Church at 701-838-4425.
6:00 A.M. EDT August 26, 2011 | MINOT, N.D.(UMNS)
“My church is bwoke! My church is bwoke, pastor!” Noah, an aptly named 4-year-old, exclaimed when he saw his church — Faith United Methodist in Minot — after floodwaters stormed into the edifice two months ago.
On June 24, the floodwaters rushed in at 75 miles an hour ravaging the basement. The powerful torrent pulled the refrigerator out of the wall socket and into the raging waters. All that happened, despite a hastily constructed 40-foot temporary dike around the area.
“I now have very dry sermons — 35 years’ worth — that are very wet,” quipped the Rev. Debra Ball-Kilbourne, who has served the congregation of about 70 since 2010.
Almost all of the pews have been removed and the floor stripped. Mold flourishes on the walls.
Thirty-five homes belonging to Faith Church members were damaged by the floods, affecting the contributing membership. That means finding adequate funds to repair the church will be difficult, if not impossible.
During the summer, the church’s popular and much-needed food pantry was moved into a trailer open for business every Monday and Wednesday morning in a strip-mall parking lot.
“We saved tons of food,” Ball-Kilbourne said. “Our garage in the parsonage is full of (salvaged) food.”
Viewing the ‘50s-era building from the outside, it is easy to see how high the water surged. Evergreens were brown at the bottom, where they soaked in floodwaters for seven weeks and green where the water did not reach. Debris was piled along the curbs.
Ruined pews sit outside Faith United Methodist Church
after the June and July floods.
View in Photo Gallery
“That’s mild compared to what you will see,” she said. “We’re creating our own biohazard waste as a new disaster.”
Driving down the streets of Minot, Ball-Kilbourne offered a tour of the flooded city of 40,000.
“You can go down almost any street and see lots of damage,” she said. “After awhile, it all looks the same."
Housing scarce as autumn approaches
“Look down both sides” of the road, Ball-Kilbourne said. "All the houses are empty. Forty-one hundred homes gone, 10,000 applicants to FEMA here in Ward County alone. Many other counties were hit by the same disaster.”
Gutted homes, valued at $150,000 three months ago, are selling for $35,000. In many cases, oil companies will make those houses safe for human habitation, providing temporary housing for several workers in each house.
Oil is big business in North Dakota. “The Bakken has been rockin’ since oil was discovered, and we will be drilling for many decades to come,” Ball-Kilbourne noted, referring to a geologic formation where significant oil exploration is under way.
Oil companies outsource housing, she said. People who have rented for 35 years suddenly find they have been put on a month-to-month lease, with rapidly escalating rents. Oil workers, who can afford higher rents, will pay about twice the previous cost.
“It’s not illegal,” Ball-Kilbourne said. “But it is immoral.”
Some of the church members have yet to see the homes they evacuated in June. The home of Bob and Ada Lower, who run the food pantry, is gone.
Most homes around the church are skeletons of wall studs, with mold and mildew clinging to their remains. Insulation, soggy lumber and remnants of people’s former lives litter the curbs.
The Rev. Debra Ball-Kilbourne looks out over the now-placid Mouse River from atop a levee that was topped by floodwaters
in Burlington, N.D.
View in Photo Gallery
“These were homes to average middle-income people,” Ball-Kilbourne said.
In many instances, three families are staying in homes meant for one.
“There is real concern,” she added, “that we’re going to have a huge drop in (population) because people may walk away.”
Along with the housing shortage, disaster case managers are dealing with relocating businesses — sometimes with the added headache of trying to track down managers of flooded buildings. “Am I going to reopen my business?” is a common question.
Also on the list are such tasks as getting a FEMA trailer, knowing that when winter descends on Minot, with temperatures dipping to minus-40 below zero, the above-ground pipes on the trailers are likely to freeze. In Minot, 200 families have moved into FEMA trailers.
‘Like a ghost town’
Just 13 miles northwest of Minot lies the tiny town of Burlington. Little of it was untouched by the temperamental waters.
“Burlington almost lost their dam,” Ball-Kilbourne said. “That town took such a hit. Sixty percent of the schoolchildren lost their homes.
“Now it’s like a ghost town. No one lives in many of the neighborhoods.” The only signs of life are a handful of people repairing their homes. Battered appliances and furniture compete for space in front of once-pretty homes. Abandoned sandbags, toppled trees and rotting lumber are scattered across the dike that the townspeople frantically cobbled together with dirt from yards and fields.
One case manager, who counsels victims of domestic violence, spoke of the difficulties of relocating women and children who lived in two flooded transitional-living homes. Another big need is evening care for children whose parents juggle returning to work during the day and meeting with case managers later in the day. At the other end of the spectrum are older adults forced out of their homes.
A constant stream of trucks helps remove
dirt from temporary levees constructed to try
to control floodwaters.
View in Photo Gallery
Legal aid and emotional and spiritual care are essential, Ball-Kilbourne said. She coordinates Resource Agencies Flood Team or RAFT as it is known, a 14-year-old partnership of faith- and community-based agencies that assist residents as they recover. She yearns for more couples and men to work in the female-dominated case-manager role.
“We need the brightest, the best and the most compassionate,” she said. “We’ll train as many as we can and send them forth.”
The cutoff date for submitting requests for RAFT assistance is Oct. 31. Already, they have 300 cases and anticipate 2,000 more.
The looming question for everyone displaced by the flood is what happens if the area is hit again next spring? Who would want to move back? Most flood-damaged homes will require new furnaces, without which foundations will crack and pipes will break.
Ball-Kilbourne fears the same thing could happen again if Canada, fewer than 100 miles from Minot, receives heavy snow that melts into the Souris River, followed by heavy rain. The average annual snowfall in Minot is between 90 inches and 120 inches, and when that melts, the banks of the Mouse River – the U.S. name for the Souris –are likely to overflow.
‘There was no stopping it’
The pastor imagines how differently things might have turned out had authorities alerted residents to the impending possibility of flooding. “People would have had time to buy flood insurance, which must be purchased 30 days before it is needed. They would have had more time to build dikes. And they would have been able to get more of the fragile people out.”
Clear information to share with the public is “a gift of gold,” she said.
“I’ve done floods for years,” she said. “I’ve never seen so much water. There was no stopping it.”
Driving to work on June 24, Ball-Kilbourne said she experienced a weird sensation when going across a frequently used bridge. “I would swear I was riding on water today,” she told her co-workers.
And she nearly did.
“All the pilings were scourged. An hour and a half after I drove over the bridge, it was gone.”
In a situation like that, “you can only pray, build dikes as fast as you can and help the most vulnerable.
“There’s no magic wand,” she noted, “nothing that will make things as they were before the flood.”
And, in the end, Ball-Kilbourne said, “sometimes the event is not the event.” What matters most are people of many faiths pulling together for their neighbors. It’s the city’s other United Methodist church —Vincent — lending space for worship and outreach.
It’s volunteers who travel great distances to lend muscle and prayer. It’s people creating cozy quilts to provide warmth to flood survivors. It’s generous United Methodists filling colorful backpacks with supplies so children can have a bit of “normal” as they return to school.
“People do not recover without support, nudging and compassion,” said Ball-Kilbourne. “The bottom line is they need a lot of hope.
Whatever we do in Jesus’ name is good.”
*Dunlap-Berg is internal content editor at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Maggie Hillery, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.