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MSU professor Kibler recalls Souris River flood 10 years later

Submitted photo Minot State University professor Robert Kibler well remembers the Souris River flood of 2011.

It has been 10 years since the Souris River flood that devastated Minot and memories are still vivid for those who lived through it, including Robert Kibler, a professor of humanities and literature at Minot State University.

“Out at our farm in Burlington, we decided to wait the flood out,” said Kibler. “But in the middle of the night, National Guardsman came to our door and told us we needed to evacuate, because the river was closing us in on all sides. We told them no, we would stay, so they left, and in their leaving, we felt the weight of loneliness descend. My wife (MSU biology professor Alexandra Deufel) and I went back to bed, but not to sleep, and the more we thought about it, staring each at the ceiling, the more we felt we needed to get out of there. So in the middle of the night, we put out spotlights run by our generator, and got the wild horses into a trailer, the hiss of the river all around us like a wild thing,, and tried to leave. But indeed, we were cut off. I got out of the truck on the road and wanted to see how deep and fast the river was running over it, thinking if it was low, we could still make it. But the river was high, and fast. We had to turn back, or rather, back up with the horses in the trailer, the baby crying. We unpacked, went back to bed, stared at the ceiling, and waited. The house did not flood, but in the morning, the river was everywhere around us. All of our land was under water save the house, and a small part of the corral. It was a brave new world to which we awakened.”

More difficulties came later.

“I was evacuated from my home in Burlington, and we lost two apartment buildings in town from the flood,” said Kibler, who also has rental properties. “We rebuilt. A colleague from the university offered to take us in, but we were in the unique position of having our non-English speaking parents just come over from Germany for vacation, and had a two-year-old toddler – more than we could foist on any other household. So my wife, her parents, and our son went on an extended vacation during the flood. I stayed here to watch the house and keep the sump pumps going, and I evacuated to the Dome on campus.”

Kibler was one of many who ended up staying at the MSU Dome, which had been set up as a shelter for people who had been displaced by the flood. Eventually, that refuge too was no longer habitable and Kibler had to find other temporary lodgings.

“In the first couple days of Dome evacuation, the only food they had was pudding,” said Kibler. “Beyond that, it was kind of exciting, people coming in from all walks of life, setting up little bed cot islands with others like them. A group of musicians and their kids formed a pod, for example, some church groups gathered together. And people swooped in all of the time – a couple girls who had stayed out late at the bars came in, all decked out, but bewildered at what was happening. The Dome, however, collapsed. First we could not take showers, and then we could not flush the toilets, so I slept in my office in Hartnett Hall, and then decided to risk going home. My street in Burlington – South Project Road – was patrolled by National Guard, marching and in jeeps, so I had to sneak in to my house, put up blankets over the windows and watched movies much of the time.”

Rebuilding for Kibler and Deufel was as challenging as for many homeowners and business owners in Minot whose properties had been engulfed by the flood waters.

“My wife and I were stunned out of action for a month or so after the flood, then realized we had to do something, so ran the FEMA Small Business Loan administrative gauntlet, received funds to rebuild, and then I hired some of my students to work gutting the properties,” said Kibler. “They were English majors, and we first pulled out the drywall, cut up the floors, then extracted three five gallon buckets of nails from the wood frame. Then the Servpros came in and disinfected, cleaned up, and the giant cranes came and hauled away the debris from the front yards, and we began the rebuilding process. I hired a group from Minnesota and they stayed in the place, working by day and playing guitars and watching movies at night. Nomadic groups cruised the neighborhoods in trucks and trailers, looking for stuff to take, so we always had to watch out, and the familiar sound of the Food Trucks, calling workers out of the flooded buildings, was a highlight, always.

“It was summer, so our work was not affected so much, other than the disruptions. And we had other apartments for rent, and when we interviewed prospective tenants, we would get people who were bankers, for example, and held steady jobs, and when I asked them where they were currently living, they would answer that currently, they were living under a bridge. Yet putting on a shirt to head to work.”

Before the flood, neither Kibler nor Deufel had lived through a natural disaster like the flood. Now they know what it means, he said, and understand what people are going through when they hear about a flood on the news.

At the beginning, the flood, or potential of a flood, was kind of exciting, said Kibler. “We had had flood threat on the Des Lacs for several of the previous years, and we sandbagged homes with people, and it was fun. And when the river is high, as it was several times on the Des Lacs, at night you could go out and hear the high hiss of the river all around you, like a living thing. Our horses were going crazy and we moved everything to higher ground several times. I keep bees, and the river in our pastures rose so fast I had to evacuate the bees in the middle of the night, floodwaters rising to catch me. And the waters did catch me, and my Bobcat was stuck in rising waters and the bee boxes fell open and all of the bees started attacking. A wild kind of mayhem, but still, kind of exciting when you do not know the devastation of floodwaters.

“Even when Minot flooded, it was exciting. I was just turning down into the valley off of Burdick when all of the sirens sounded, (meaning it was time to evacuate). My heart raced, and when I got to my properties, everything was still sunny and normal. People were pulling stuff out of their houses, including furnaces, et cetera, but we all knew that water was now creeping towards us from somewhere. The pace picked up, and it was a thrill. But then the flood actually came, it changed. I had never experienced a flood before, and neither had my wife Alexandra. Now, however, a decade later, we still get teary eyed when on the news they show a community flooding. We know what that means now, and we have empathy, whereas before, we did not know the true impact of a flood.”

Looking back on the flood, Kibler said he thinks the city has missed some opportunities. He is disappointed that Minot has rebuilt but has not yet really enacted a flood plan. He visited Frederick, Md., another city that had flooded, and was impressed by its rebuilding efforts and transformation from a “kind of run down cow town” to a “major tourist site.”

“They made a major investment in the city, and it paid off in spades,” said Kibler. “Minot has not done anything like this. Too bad.”

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