Praying

In two years of living out in North Dakota, I probably drove through Minot a hundred times. These days, I’m riveted to the pictures of the unbelievable flooding of places I’ve been.

The Souris River in Minot is a kind of dividing line: to the north is the airport, Minot State University, the huge and very good Bishop Ryan High School, and another five miles past the airport is the Minot Air Force Base.

The river itself sits down in a valley–one that you can easily take for granted until you really think about it, but the entire town slopes down into that valley from both the north and the south. And in that valley sit railroad lines, the Amtrak station, downtown, the state fairgrounds, the minor league ballpark, grain elevators, many businesses, and scores of homes. Now it appears that the valley will become nothing but river for some time.

It’s scary on so many levels: the crest is currently projected to be 10 feet over the previously measured record, making it likely that no one will ever see anything this bad ever again, while at the same time the destruction is likely to be unbelievably bad. It’s also scary because just over a quarter of the population of the entire city has been evacuated. Think about that for a minute–for safety, a quarter of the city is being virtually turned over to the river, all because they don’t know that they can hold back that much water.

For work out there, I had to drive to the Minot AFB frequently because the company I worked for printed the base newspaper, and we supplied them with their computers and software. And whenever they had problems, my instructions from my boss were to drop everything and head up there, because our contract with them brought in more money than any of the other papers in the chain. Since the base was north of town, I’d pass through town–a virtual speed bump on highway 83, which is the main north-south highway through the central part of the state. And for all of those trips, little of that bridge and crossing really sunk in until this week as I’ve been seeing the pictures from that area, and it all comes flooding back: things I’ve seen and places I’ve been that are likely to never be the same again.

In fact, around noon today, they closed the very bridge I went over twice on every one of those trips: the Broadway Bridge, which always was a good 20 feet or more over the river when I went over it, was closed today because of the need to continue working on the dikes and over fears that the rising water may weaken the supports. It isn’t under water, and doesn’t look like it will be soon, but still…This almost cuts the city in half. I’ve been reading to get from the south to the north, you have only a couple of options, and one of them requires you to go all the way around to the west edge of town and take the bypass–inconvenient, to say the least.

The pictures are sad. The situation is sad. And I hope the town comes out OK. And today somewhere I saw a picture of a familiar looking building with a seven foot dirt dike around it: it was the building that we’d had a sales office in. It never dawned on me until today that the office was only a couple of blocks from the river.

There’s a lot of danger still coming: the hospital in town is only a few blocks south of the river; the water treatment plant is in the valley as well, and the city announced they can’t build a higher dike than what they’ve already done; and there are calls for more evacuations–much more and half of the town could be empty for who knows how long.

It’s a nice town–a kind of rough, sometimes dirty, working-class town. And they deserve better. Join me in wishing them well. They need it.

See you tomorrow.