After week of labor, many area students leave flood area

While some students from outside the area, including the Twin Cities, came to help, others were advised not to come.

FARGO, N.D. âÄî As floodwaters threatened Fargo-Moorhead over the past week, college students âÄî many whose families donâÄôt live in the area âÄî were essential in fortifying the cities against the rising waters of the Red River. Along with citizens from within and outside the community, they traded tests and term papers for the tedious and physically challenging work of filling, moving and stacking hundreds of thousands of sandbags throughout last week, and many marveled at the strength of the community of which theyâÄôd become a part. Over the weekend, local students worked alongside those whoâÄôd come from out of town, including some University of Minnesota students. But as the cities wait out the Red RiverâÄôs sustained crest over the next few days, theyâÄôll have to do without many of those students. By Friday, two Moorhead campuses had evacuated, and with classes at all three major area colleges cancelled for another week, many students have left the area. After sandbagging around and moving artifacts out of the basement of a Moorhead museum Thursday night, Minnesota State University-Moorhead first-year Ryan Collins and three other Moorhead State students, all from the Twin Cities, returned to a campus dispatch center. Asked what theyâÄôd been up to all week, they answered in unison: âÄúsandbagging.âÄù They said a few friends had been treating the time off classes like a long weekend, but most were volunteering. Though other classmates had gone home that week, they were all planning to stick around. But by the next afternoon, Collins was headed back to the Twin Cities. That morning, heâÄôd gotten a knock on his dorm door and found the campus was being evacuated. Over the weekend, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities first-year Michelle Schultz helped take the place of sandbaggers that left town. After bussing up to Fargo at 6 a.m. Thursday, she sandbagged all day and into the night. At a south Fargo country club where she sandbagged until 12:30 a.m., Schultz said they had a lot of sand but not enough people, and the volunteer hotline wasnâÄôt sending any out because they wanted people off the roads and in their own neighborhoods. âÄúIt was frustrating,âÄù she said, âÄúthe sandbags were freezing, we were standing in water.âÄù Heading back to the Twin Cities Sunday, Schultz said she was exhausted after just a couple days of work and said she gives âÄúmajor creditâÄù to students whoâÄôd been at it all week. The city of Moorhead also asked Concordia College students to evacuate Friday, though the college had decided on their own the previous day to shut down campus. Concordia students had been âÄúfirst respondersâÄù to the initial call for volunteers, Concordia President Pam Jolicoeur said, since two other area colleges were still on spring break when the flood fight began. Students were very committed to fighting the flood, she said, but by Thursday, safety concerns along with a need to relieve pressure on the cityâÄôs water and sewer system led her to declare a campus emergency and advise students to leave. She said the student body president had told her that students would only leave âÄúif you tell them they have to,âÄù which made her responsibility a little clearer, she said. College students were key to the areaâÄôs flood-fighting efforts, Jolicoeur said. Even though many students arenâÄôt from the area, she said they were âÄújust tireless.âÄù

Students in uniform

As citizens keep watch on the weather and floodwater barriers, U.S. Coast Guard reserve members, including University political science junior Mike Kelleher, stand by and wait for the call to help stranded citizens or respond to other emergencies. Kelleher has been on flood duty with the coast guard since Monday night. So far he hasnâÄôt been part of any rescue operations, and though itâÄôs good news for the city that they havenâÄôt needed it yet, âÄúitâÄôs tough to sit,âÄù he said. While KelleherâÄôs been on standby, Air National Guard member and North Dakota State business senior Monte Gehrtz has been sandbagging and keeping an eye on dikes. Friday night he spent 12 hours patrolling a one-mile stretch of sandbag dike, checking for leaks and frozen sump pump hoses. Residents set up these pumps behind their barriers to send back water that has seeped through.

âÄòI want to experience everythingâÄô

While some students were evacuated or chose to leave, others, living off-campus and on the North Dakota State University campus, stayed in town. Moorhead State physics junior Deyan Mihaylov has been volunteering between six and eight hours daily, thanks to the medical study heâÄôs participating in. HeâÄôd have left the area for his girlfriendâÄôs house in Grand Forks, he said, but heâÄôs enrolled in a paid medical study that requires daily blood draws. As heâÄôd been doing all week, Mihaylov, a native of Bulgaria, rode a packed school bus Friday afternoon along with three of his friends to a Moorhead sandbagging site. About 50 people poured off the bus and into the chilly air along the bank of the Red River floodwaters that already surrounded the riverside of one neighborhood home. For several hours, volunteers unloaded sandbags from a flatbed truck and passed them down a line of people who placed them on the shore of floodwaters that lapped at the yards of several neighborhood homes. While waiting to transition between sandbag locations in the neighborhood, Moorhead State junior Brandon Kuntz said when he heard class was cancelled last Monday he originally saw it as a vacation and took the day off. But he felt guilty about that, he said, and volunteered for the rest of the week. âÄúEveryoneâÄôs coming together,âÄù he said, repeating a common sentiment. To him, itâÄôs meant that people have put aside differences and worked willingly together regardless of whether they normally get along. But, he said, he expects that to wear off at some point. People werenâÄôt out partying much this week, and he said the town âÄúfeels like a war zone.âÄù Though some of his classmates have gone home, Kuntz, whoâÄôs from Bismarck, N.D ., said he doesnâÄôt have a reason to do so âÄúunless the town goes under.âÄù âÄúI want to experience everything,âÄù he said. Saturday at the North Dakota State student center, zoology junior Kit Wong echoed that. Despite his parentâÄôs pleas for him to come home, Wong said heâÄôd rather be in Fargo, aware of whatâÄôs going on and finding ways to help. After a week of manual labor, he was working at the volunteer registration desk in the student center, which was quiet on Saturday, as volunteers werenâÄôt being called to sandbag. âÄúNow it feels like the calm of the storm,âÄù he said Saturday afternoon at the North Dakota State student center. He said after this week, Fargo feels more like home. On campus, âÄúyou feel like you live in a bubble,âÄù but being out in the community, he was reminded âÄúacademics do matter, but in the end, people matter, lives matter.âÄù North Dakota State senior Charlie Cunningham , who was helping coordinate Moorhead State dispatch center operations, said businesses, including local grocery stores, along with individuals and churches, had stocked the center with food. On Thursday night, pallets of food and water stacked about eight-feet high covered a tennis-court sized area in the buildingâÄôs field house. Cunningham, who happens to be majoring in emergency management, said he sees the experience as a sort of âÄúinformal internship.âÄù After studying emergency situations in class, he said âÄúbeing here and seeing it first hand is life-changing.âÄù