|Photo: Brian Witthoeft, left, gets help from Joel Witthoeft, center, and Neil Dyer in preparing his Moorhead, Minn., home as the Red River rises Monday. Central Texas also has a heightened risk of flooding. (Jay Pickthorn/ AP)
March 17, 2010
FARGO, N.D. - Some children lugged sandbags that weighed more than they did. Determined teens showed up just after dawn with groups of friends, ready and willing to shovel.
New groups of kids arrived by the busloads, all ready to join the race to protect their city from the rising Red River.
Thousands of volunteers are lending a hand this week to fill and stack sandbags to place along the river and near endangered homes as Fargo faces the threat of a severe flood after the river's expected crest Sunday.
On Wednesday, the Red River rose to just above the "major" flood level of 30 feet, NBC News reported, citing meteorologist Nick Wiltgen.
But the heart of that volunteer corps are the city's youngest citizens. It's a job that elsewhere might be reserved for emergency workers or at least, their parents.
However here, students can be excused from class with their parents' permission and join the hundreds of adults who are taking on the task of filling 1 million sandbags to hold back the impending floodwaters.
"They pretty much have saved our community," said David Stark, 62, who worked beside hundreds of student volunteers Monday. He had to take a break after hurting his hand and was in awe of the students' dedication.
The National Weather Service has issued a report stating that the region is at "high risk" for spring flooding due to a heavy snowpack and milder temperatures.
'Helping the city and my friends'
Many of the volunteers know that what they're doing may help save a neighbor or friend. Michael Russell, 14, didn't mind missing a day of school to get dirty filling sandbags. He guessed many would end up near his own home or his friends' homes.
"I think I'm helping the city and my friends," he said. Emilee Stevens normally can't wait more than a few minutes without itching to send a text message to a friend. This week, she didn't think about touching her cell phone as she shoveled, stacked and filled sandbags to help save her town.
"Texting would be hard to do sandbagging but it doesn't matter because all my friends are here anyway," said the 14-year-old Stevens.
The students are providing critical manpower when their community needs it most.
Since March 1, volunteers have been bused in to Fargo's "Sandbag Central," an arena-size utility building normally used to house a fleet of 25 garbage trucks, said Terry Ludlum, the city's solid waste utility manager.
There, with the help of machines and volunteers, up to 100,000 sandbags can be filled in a 12-hour shift. Fifty volunteers can fill about 1,000 sandbags an hour.
Student volunteers critical to city
åThe volunteers are expected to meet their goal Wednesday afternoon, three days ahead of schedule and largely because of the help of the young students, Ludlum said. More than 1,000 children and teens have participated in the effort.
"We certainly would not be this far along without the help of these kids," Ludlum said.
Student volunteers are a critical part of Fargo's flood response plan, and without them, the city would be sunk.
Photo: Nick Soiseth tosses sandbags on Tuesday to help his neighbor's Jim and Fran Brenan build a 40-foot dike outside of their Fargo home. (Jay Pickthorn/ AP)
College students helped with the sandbagging effort last year when the region lived through record flooding, but this year, they are on spring break.
To fill the gap, hundreds of middle school and high school students have been enlisted to work three- to four-hour shifts for 12 hours each day.
'So little kids don't drown'