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North Dakota Hams Help to Head Off River Flooding

03/27/2009

Early on Friday, March 27, the Red River -- the natural boundary separating North Dakota and Minnesota -- rose to 40.32 feet, more than 22 feet above flood stage and inches more than the previous high water mark of 40.10 feet set April 7, 1897. According to Mark Johnson, KC0SHM, President of the Red River Radio Amateurs (RRRA), hams are "substantially involved" with the flood operations. "This flooding event is impacting residents in both North Dakota and Minnesota" he told the ARRL. "National Weather Service forecasters are predicting that the river will crest to 41 feet, maybe even as high as 43 feet, by Saturday."

Johnson said that on March 22, officials in North Dakota's Cass County and Minnesota's Clay County requested the assistance of local amateurs. Hams set up local nets on the W0ILO repeater system, using 444.875+ and 145.350-. "Initially, hams supported the area, helping out with coordinating food and water requests for the Salvation Army and Red Cross," he said. "In addition, Clay County hams have been heavily involved with coordinating sand and sandbag logistics."

In Fargo, schools were closed and trials in the municipal court were suspended. According to The New York Times, hundreds of people swarmed onto the floor of the Fargodome, home of the North Dakota State University football team and where a rodeo had been scheduled for this week. In the center of the stadium, the Times reported that "mountains of clay- and rock-filled sand were surrounded by college students, children, members of the National Guard and ordinary residents, all bearing shovels and filling white sandbags. Thousands of volunteers -- from places as far as Florida and Alaska -- have filled 2.5 million sandbags in just five days. Little forklifts whirred around bearing pallets of bags and dump trucks drove through delivering more sand, even as volunteers offered 'fresh hot cookies,' neck massages and tetanus shots."

Johnson said that as the river continues to rise and sandbagging operations near completion, "ham activity is morphing from dike preparations to developing emergency communications for evacuations, in the event should that become necessary. As of Thursday, March 26, we are currently communicating between three hospitals, two county Emergency Operation Centers, volunteer centers, the Salvation Army, the American Red Cross, the Coast Guard and a helipad." Johnson said these are 24 hour operations.

"Honestly, I do not know the number of hams participating; I would estimate roughly 30 or more at this time to support the operations," Johnson told the ARRL. "The volunteer response has been enormous -- we believe we have enough volunteers on hand to manage through the weekend. After the weekend, we are relying on other area hams who have responded to the call that are standing by." Since all resource needs are being met by amateurs in the North Dakota and Minnesota Sections, ARRL Emergency Preparedness and Response Manager Dennis Dura, K2DCD, said that there is no need for Amateur Radio assistance from other Sections at this time.

Cass County Sherriff Paul Laney told the Times that south of the city -- near the Red River and the Wild Rice River -- 46 residents and 12 pets had to be rescued by boat from homes in which water had pressed through sandbags and made its way into first floors, and that on Thursday, he and his officers were headed off on boats to make 11 additional rescues.

Concerns about major flooding extend well beyond Fargo. Throughout parts of North Dakota and western Minnesota, residents are bracing for the Red River, nearby streams and rivers and the Missouri River to spill their banks -- the result, according to the NWS, of a combination of factors. In the fall, the flat terrain was saturated by rain, followed by a winter of heavy snow, and now -- as so much snow began melting -- came days more of rain and, on Wednesday, half a foot of snow in some places.

In the Canadian province of Manitoba, the Manitoba Emergency Measures Organization and the City of Winnipeg Emergency Program have requested assistance from local ARES groups there to help out with the flooding on that side of the border, said Radio Amateurs of Canada's Manitoba Section Emergency Coordinator Don Gerrard, VE4DWG. "Both organizations are in the process of activating their Emergency Operations Centers and have requested ARES radio operators to begin staffing the radio room at the facilities beginning Monday March 30, 2009," he posted on an RAC ARES reflector. "Jeff Dovyak, VE4MBQ, District Emergency Coordinator of the Capital Region, advises that he is beginning the process of scheduling ARES radio operators for these current taskings. Further requirements are likely as water levels rise, and will be communicated when received."

"As both a ham and a resident of Fargo, I am deeply touched by the community outpouring of support for fellow man," Johnson said. "Volunteers by the thousands have poured into churches to help with food, volunteer centers to help fill sand bags and to the front lines for sand bag placement. Everyone pray for us -- we need a miracle for the community as a whole to pull this off."



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