Essay: A quiet disaster

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Young resident reflects on the Minot flood

Jessica Vix attends Bible Fellowship Church in Minot, ND. She is a 2011 graduate of Our Redeemer’s Christian School in Minot. She posted this essay June 22 on Facebook.

Also read the CL interview with Pastor Duane Deckert. 

 

Few disasters happen quite like this one. Sitting on the deck of our pastor’s house, it was warm and sunny. Not too windy, not too cold and not a drop of rain. It almost felt completely normal.

In reality it was anything but. The streets were strangely quiet with only the occasional vehicle passing by. Not odd, unless you observed the usual trailer following behind stacked high with furniture and boxes of every shape and size. No one was mowing their lawn, watching TV or barbequing on this perfect summer day. Inside the house, the basement was stripped bare of nearly everything and the guys were working on hauling up the furnace, the last order of business before locking the doors and leaving.

The day before had been a long one. It had started with hearing again on KXMC the words everyone has dreaded for weeks. Minot was losing the flood fight. The dikes were going to fail. Water would flow into the streets and houses would be lost. Mayor Curt Zimbelman reluctantly admitted defeat, weary sadness etched across his face. We packed up as many boxes and Rubbermaid containers as we could fit into our van and pickup and headed for the evacuation zones.

Here there was an atmosphere of quiet resignation. It was as if time had slowed down. People seemed to realize that there was nothing to do but simply pack up and leave regardless of whatever emotions they were feeling. I thought of friends who were leaving. It hurt to think there was no way out of this, no way to stop the water from coming. No way to help but to pray.

We started moving our entire church basement up to the main level at about 9:30 in the morning and wrapped up at 4 that afternoon. The sheer amount of stuff that had to be moved seemed a little overwhelming at times and after endless trips up and down the stairs, I felt like I’d had my workout for the week. Boxes of things I had never even seen before were carried upstairs and stacked on pews and tables and in side rooms. My dad and I struggled to haul up two file cabinets without gouging chunks out of the walls. (By the way: three stoves plus two refrigerators plus one piano equals the need for about six men. I stayed out of the way.) As my dad put it, we moved “everything that wasn’t nailed down and a lot that was.”

By the time the job was finished, the bare walls of every room in the basement stared back at me as the first tangible evidence that this flood was really happening. Because my own house is about 20 miles away from the flood plain in Minot, it would have been easy enough to turn off the TV and forget about everything. After all, our fields are soggy enough and it’s a frustrating year from the farming aspect as well. The stress in our house has been like a constant, unspoken presence.

But people in Minot were going to be losing their very homes. Thousands of people wouldn’t even be able to sleep in their own beds for weeks. Our church, one that I had grown up in and spent countless hours in, could very well have its basement filled with water within a week. This was reality—a reality that couldn’t be escaped by simply switching off the news and thinking of something else.

The residents of the Minot evacuation zones were doing just what they were told to do. They were leaving quickly but calmly. No panic, no mass hysteria. As we drove our pickup behind our pastor’s truck and trailer in search of a much-needed lunch, I almost had to remind myself that we were waiting for a disaster. Waiting for sirens to sound, warning the last of the evacuees to finish up their packing and leave their homes behind.
The names we have all become so familiar with seem so innocent: Lake Darling Dam and Mouse River. Nothing threatening about these names. But the river was more of a swelling giant, barely able to continue flowing underneath the bridge on 16th Street. Driving south, we were literally surrounded by trucks, trailers and moving vans with every conceivable type of furniture being hauled away from the valley.

One of the first visible consequences of too much snow and rain, the potholes dotted the roads, daring my dad not to drop violently into them as we drove. When we reached the intersection of 16th Avenue and Broadway at 12:57 and stopped at the light, a loud howl suddenly interrupted the day. It seemed that nearly every car at the intersection instantly had the windows down as an entire city paused to listen to the eerie moan of the sirens.

As we headed out of town a few hours later, we drove by the primary levee one more time. The water seemed to be clinging to the edges of the dike like a kid who was scared to go down a waterslide. In one spot, a small trickle of water had just begun making its way over the edge and down the other side, running crookedly over the clay and into the street. The beginning flow of a disaster.

We all know how tough our city is. No one doubts the strength of our citizens—the stamina and resolve. Neither do they doubt the sincerity—the compassion and veracity. Our city has taken a hard hit this spring. The fight has been long and hard and despite all our efforts, houses and property will be lost. But our heart? The heart of the city is intact. No amount of water, not 22,000 cfs or 1563 feet, can destroy the spirit of Minot.

The disaster began rising to a climax on this calm summer day. And once the water has dissipated and the cleanup begins, the Magic City will once again band together as a community of neighbors and friends to restore our home.

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