Living on the Crest
By Tom Larson, Sun Tribune
Living is tough enough in places like Fargo, where the wind never seems to stop and the winter months bring a nearly constant battle with snow and cold.
As such, long-time Fargo-area resident Art Lies sounded relatively unfazed by the possibility of losing his home to last weekend's flood threat.
"I guess I got a new swimming pool," Lies joked last Friday, a day after the rising Red River forced him to evacuate his home of 43 years north of Fargo.
Lies, 78, is the father of Morris resident Zach Lies. Art moved south with his cat to stay with Zach and his wife, Tammy Roth, in Morris. He evacuated one day after students from Morris Area High School traveled to Fargo and helped sandbag around his home.
After a few anxious days, Art and Zach returned to Fargo on Wednesday to survey the damage. To their relief, except for some flooding in the basement, Art's home was in good shape.
"For some reason, Rural Electric never shut the power off so the sump (pump) kept running," Zach said from Art's home on Wednesday. "There were just little pools of water on the floor."
The water line on walls and furnishings told them that the water reached as high as three feet. Art's furnace was shot, and the state of his water heater wasn't immediately known, Zach said.
But in addition to sandbagging, the Morris Area students moved a lot of Art's belongings out of the basement to the upper floor of the house.
"You don't really find out how much junk you have until you move stuff," he said with a laugh.
Other valuables, such as a riding lawnmower in the garage, weren't seriously damaged.
"It could have been worse," Zach said.
Zach, 42, was born the year after his folks moved into the home two miles north of Fargo's airport, hard by the Red River.
Art, who retired from teaching 20 years ago, said the family never experienced any flooding problems until recently.
"We never even had a dike until 1997," Art said.
After that harrowing event, Art had a permanent dike built on his property, and two times after that flooding threatened his home.
After the students sandbagged his home last week, Art thought his dike, the students' efforts and three pumps would take care of the place. That changed in an instant on Friday.
"That clever river found a spot," he said, adding that it was his permanent dike that gave way and that the students' sandbag dike held its ground. "The river just overwhelmed us Friday morning."
Art was patrolling his dikes at about 2 a.m. Friday and everything looked OK. The permanent dike was built to withstand a crest up to 40 feet, and the students had a three-bag-high layer on top of that. But the river found its way under the permanent dike, Art said.
By Friday morning, he was getting out.
"I never saw the river rise that fast," he said. "It absolutely jumped up. Normally, floods kind of taper when they get that high. This just shot up. I had two sumps outside and one inside and couldn't even come close to keeping up with the seepage. A little before dawn on Friday, all hell broke loose."
Art gathered up his cat and was just barely able to drive away from his home. He had to take a round-about route to get to safe ground.
After he arrived in Morris, he contacted neighbors and found that people in several neighborhoods near his home, one with as many as 100 homes, were stranded there for several days.
"They were all trapped," he said.
As the Red River receded, Zach and Art made their way back to the home. But 10 inches of snow on Tuesday made that difficult. The road into his property was underwater and they rode the last couple of miles in an Army Humvee, Zach said.
Photos of the property show bare ground in areas around the home, and the Lies remain confident that the worst is over, despite officials predicting a possible second crest of the river in mid-April.
"Some damage is already done," Zach said. "(A second crest) is just adding extra time before we can get in and clean up."
And after 43 years on the banks of the Red River, Art is resigned to the fact that he hasn't yet seen it all.
In 1997, the area received a lot more snow than this year, up to 110 inches in some areas, he said. That year, a sandbag dike three bags high easily turned back the river. For that reason, he didn't think the Red would pose a problem this year.
"I've given up predicting floods," he said with a laugh.