Flooded residents count blessings

Latter-day Saints in the Red River Valley of North Dakota, Minnesota and Manitoba are among residents battling billions of gallons of muddy river water spilling over earth and sandbag dikes, onto thousands of acres of farmland and into homes.

Since mid-April, a virtually unprecedented season of blizzards and flooding has ravaged the more than 200,000 residents living along the 195-mile river stretching from Wahpeton, N.D., to Manitoba in Canada."We haven't had [Mutual] for weeks and weeks; the kids are sandbagging," said Fargo North Dakota Stake Pres. Joel C. Smith. The previous Sunday, he said, members of the two Fargo wards held a brief combined sacrament meeting, then 100 members immediately went out to sandbag. Members stayed up all night to make sure dikes weren't leaking and pumps were running.

Pres. Smith said a truckload from Church Welfare Services of 37,000 pounds of canned goods was being dispersed via the Salvation Army up and down the valley. "Another truckload will go to Crookston, and a third truckload will be divided between Bemidji and Cass Lake (in Minnesota) through which every organization is coordinating relief efforts," he added.

In his flood-besieged city, Grand Forks (N.D.) 2nd Ward Bishop Carl Johnson said he used home teachers as an emergency communication network.

With emotion, he told of youth who went from seminary directly to the homes of members close to the river to help them move their belongings to dry ground.

"I never felt alone," Bishop Johnson said. "I knew I could call any member."

In the midst of the flood damage, "the Grand Forks meetinghouse is high and dry," President Smith said. An aerial photo of the building, taken by Bishop Johnson, shows the water surrounding the meetinghouse and coming within inches of the walls.

Bishop Johnson commented that some members of the ward had been spared water damage in their neighborhoods, while their neighbors a few houses down had significant damage.

In Cass Lake, Minn., Al and Christy Byzewski had spent 20 years remodeling their basement. When the flood came, the basement was filled with six feet of contaminated water. The family was required to rip everything out. But, Sister Byzewski said, "you start thinking about other people's tragedies, not just your own." She said her daughter, Julie, living elsewhere in the town, had lost most of her property. At her apartment, her baby's items, left behind in the rush to evacuate, floated in the water. Yet, Sister Byzewski said, the daughter maintained she would salvage her property later and continued to help sandbag homes closer to the river.

Pres. Smith said: "All religions, all faiths have worked hand-in-hand. As this whole thing has unfolded, [the cooperation] has just been wonderful."

Meanwhile, the risk extends past the Canadian border. Winnipeg Manitoba Stake Pres. George Spencer said April 29, "Of the 20,000 people that have had to evacuate south of Winnipeg to the border, six families are Church members. So far, most of our members have been spared. The water is at the city limits. We have 30 member families at risk."

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed