First off, a big thank you to everyone who left comments and words of encouragement. It meant a lot to know that you were sending positive thoughts our direction during the past two weeks.
Where to start? We are all safe and our belongings are stowed in 4 different locations out of the flood zone. I packed and moved our entire house in less than 6 hours while Mr. B was outside building a 6′ high x 130′ long sand bag wall. It was in a word- insane.
Over Memorial Day weekend we were in Minneapolis, enjoying our first out of town trip with 3 month old Anna. During the weekend the Army Corps of Engineers suddenly issued a press release, stating that by June 15th they would be increasing the flows of the Missouri river to a level that was double the historical maximum flows (which had caused significant flooding in many areas in 1953). The river would remain at this high level for a minimum of 3 months. The announcement came completely out of the blue. None of the cities downstream had any advance warning. In fact they had all been expecting a full but normal flow for the river throughout the summer. The unprecedented river flows were expected to cause massive flooding in areas far outside the 500 year flood zone. On Sunday we started to receive calls from friends who lived along the river. They were moving out overnight and encouraged us to come home right away.
We do not live adjacent to the river, in fact we are at least a half-mile away. Yet when we drove onto our street on Monday evening it looked like a war zone. Heavy machinery rolled past hauling dirt, sandbags, and backhoes. Hundreds of people were working at a breakneck pace filling sandbags. It was a race against the clock to prepare for the worst as the river increased in size each day. On Tuesday the government began to issue maps showing the projected impact of the water. Our challenges came on two fronts: surface water and ground water. The surface water maps showed that we could have 1-2 feet of surface water running from the river to our home. Meanwhile the ground water maps projected a worse fate with 3-5 feet of water possible in the lower level of our home. It is one thing to deal with water for a short period of time, but with the high flows expected to last into September we had to take action. Mr. B worked feverishly to secure the supplies and manpower needed to build a sandbag wall around our house. On Wednesday, friends, relatives, and coworkers came from as far away as Austin, Chicago, Denver, and San Diego to help. We worked 16 hour days hauling 70 pound sandbags and moving everything from our lower level onto the main floor, thinking everything would be safe on our main level.
By Thursday the news was worse with even higher projected water levels and we made the difficult decision to move out. We did not have flood insurance and could not risk the financial devastation of losing our home along with everything in it. Dozens of people from Mr. B’s office showed up to help on Friday and by 2pm our entire house was boxed up and on trucks headed to storage, barns, and friends’ houses. My parents live just up the street so everything we were doing to save our house was doubled in the efforts to save theirs as well. Two walls to build, two houses to move, while almost all of our local friends were dealing with the same challenges. Imagine that everyone you know is moving at the same time, in a panic, and you can picture the chaos which filled our streets.
Because we live in a rural unincorporated area it was difficult to get any State or Federal assistance. Up until that Friday everyone simply pulled together all the resources they had without any expectation of government aid. Pickup trucks, bobcats, dump trucks, sand, and thousands of man hours- all of the equipment and supplies were privately funded as neighbors dug deep to help each other. People worked until their voices were hoarse, their skin peeled from sunburns, and they had blisters from carrying sandbags. I have never been more proud to live in South Dakota. There is a fierce spirit of self reliance and a commitment to help friends and strangers alike which I have never encountered anywhere else. I was continuously humbled and amazed by the people in my community.
On Friday afternoon the National Guard showed up to help. They brought Humvees, Black Hawk Helicopters, and hundreds of troops to assist us. Under the supervision of the guard we built multiple levees to protect the surrounding area from surface water. The levees were complete late on Monday, and by Tuesday the water was already starting to back up behind the dirt walls.
A week from Memorial Day, we were all living in two rooms in the basement of close friends. 6 adults, 2 children and one on the way (not mine thank heavens), 4 dogs- all in one house. What kind of friends not only offer to let you move in with just a few days notice but also offer to house your parents and their dogs too? Very, very good friends.
Today the water hits the peak flow predicted by the Army Corps of Engineers. Many homes along the river are gone. Roads are flooded, businesses shut down, and over 5,500 homes are displaced because of the flooding. So far the levees are holding and are keeping the surface water away from our homes. We also have not seen any ground water in our lower level. This is a good sign but it can take up to a month for the ground water levels to rise. We are cautiously optimistic. Many things could still go wrong and cause our home to flood. Heavy rains can make the ground water rise overnight. The Army Corps of Engineers could issue another ‘surprise’ announcement and raise river levels further. A levee could fail. We will be unable to relax until the river finally drops in the fall.
Mr. B and I are hoping to move our small suitcases of clothes, a bed, two camp chairs, and a portable crib back into our house this weekend. We are thinking we can try and ‘camp out’ in our house until this is over. Cooking will be an adventure in minimalism as literally everything in my kitchen is packed and buried beneath other boxes in a storage facility an hour away. We do not want to move anything back into the house that we couldn’t leave behind in a hurry if necessary.
Anna turned 3 months old and Mr. B turned 40 in the middle of all the craziness. Instead of the summer deck party with friends I had planned, we celebrated by throwing another sandbag on the pile and promising to throw a huge rager if we make it through this crisis.
Emotionally the stress of moving suddenly and worrying that you could lose your home without any insurance to help rebuild is significant. We are doing the best that we can to hang in there and remain positive. I will find my way back to posting recipes as soon as I can. Thank you for being here and for all of your support.
*Thank you also to my brother Matt for all of the photos in this post. There was no way I could pick up a camera and get everything else done too.*