The Red River Rises

This column was adapted from a sermon preached by John Hulden at Trinity Lutheran Church in Moorhead, Minnesota, on Sunday, April 13, 1997, two days after the expected crest of the flooding Red River (20.5 feet above flood stage), and five days before the actual crest (22.6 feet above flood stage). Later that week, Grand Forks, North Dakota, and East Grand Forks, Minnesota, 80 miles north of Moorhead, were evacuated as 11 downtown buildings burned uncontrollably. —The Editors

We had the plastic down first, then thousands of sandbags, more plastic on the river side of the dike, and more sandbags on top of that. The 100-year flood stage of the mighty Red River meant the dike was being tested like we hoped it never would be. And the mighty Red was seeping its way through the dike to the back door of my friends' house.

Where was the water getting through? From underneath the dike because the dike was sitting on ice and frozen concrete? From underneath the concrete patio slab? Maybe from where the dike was up against the frozen dirt and brick retaining wall? We didn't know.

We did know we had to continue pumping the water back into the flooding river, and keep the ice chunks and slush away from the pump. Losing ground, we bought another pump. We blew a fuse. Within a matter of minutes the Red River was lapping at the threshold of their door, and we were groping for answers.

Grope is my word for the week. Groping is when you try to make your way around in a dark room, reach out with your arms, and usually stub your toe. We groped for answers that week: Why 10 blizzards that winter, that week's being the worst? Why is it so cold in April? Is that good or bad for flooding? Will flood insurance cover this or that?

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 1997
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