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The Great Flood of 2011

June 24, 2011 - Andrea Johnson
I am lucky, at least for the moment, because I live in a southeast Minot neighborhood untouched by the coming flood waters.

Unlike 11,000 other people who were forced to pack up with only a few hours notice and leave houses behind for a friend's or relative's couch or to stay in a Red Cross shelter with a bunch of strangers, I get to stay in my own home, with the water running and the power still on. I can even drive to work using my usual route without noticing flood waters anywhere in the streets. People who live in north Minot tell me that half of the city resembles something from a bad disaster movie. Half of Minot has been effectively destroyed.

In spite of my relative luck, I know that no one in the city will escape unscathed. The flooding will drag on for weeks. All of us will deal with disrupted city services and the discomforts of having so many people displaced. The aftermath promises to be even worse, as we assess the damage, what can be saved and what must be discarded, what can be cleaned up with a bucket full of water and bleach and what must be burned or hauled away to the landfill, what can be rebuilt and what is too expensive to repair.

A survivor of the 1997 Grand Forks flood warned me last night to expect smells I have never smelled before, trash floating in the streets and fish in unexpected places and possibly the loss of power or sewer system failures. Depending on how many schools have been flooded, area children may well be attending unfamiliar schools in the fall or be in makeshift classrooms in church buildings or other buildings in town. Parents and children will be living with relatives or in temporary housing of some sort until flood-damaged homes and apartments can be cleaned up. That is what happened after the Grand Forks flood. I remember interviewing children from Grand Forks who ended up attending schools in Minot during the duration of the 1997 flood.

I am sorrier than I can say for everyone who has lost or is about to lose a house or an apartment or is worried about what will happen to his job. At a time when we are waiting for the flood crest it may be too soon to think about the cleanup, but I also find myself wishing we were already in the aftermath. I don't think it's too soon to look at what we can do to start making things better.

In a city where housing was already far too expensive, provided you could find a vacant apartment or a house to rent at all, I fear for the future. Housing – AFFORDABLE housing – absolutely must be the city's top priority when the flood waters recede. There must be a focus on construction of reasonably-priced apartments, on rental housing, on housing that is built far enough from the river so that this cannot happen again.

We also appear to be entering a new weather pattern and spring flooding is likely to be a yearly occurrence, not one that we must worry about only every 40 or 100 years. The Minot area has endured three winters with heavy snowfall followed by a worry about spring flooding. This easily could have happened last year or the year before. I'm afraid this could all too easily happen again next spring unless something is done differently and our city and state leaders are proactive in taking steps to deal with it.


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