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Athletes from the University of Minnesota Morris traveled to Breckenridge this week to help with flood control work. Photo courtesy Heather Pennie.

UPDATE: Local residents help with flood control as crest projections worsen

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By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

A typical trip to the Fargo-Moorhead area for many Morris area residents might involve shopping, a concert, maybe a sporting event or a college visit.

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There wasn't a lot of fun in store for area residents and companies making the trip there this week, but what they are doing is probably more rewarding.

Riley Brothers, of Morris, on Monday sent more than two dozen pieces of equipment and about 60 workers to the region to help with flood control efforts in the Red River Valley.

On Thursday, more than 40 Morris Area students, teachers and parents boarded a bus at 6 a.m. and took off to help with sandbagging efforts. This after FFA students from Hancock and Morris traveled to the region earlier this week.

Riverview Dairy also sent between 25 and 35 people, including Hispanic workers and area residents, to Fargo on three separate trips, said Riverview's Kevin Wulf.

Earlier this week, softball, volleyball and track athletes from the University of Minnesota, Morris traveled to Breckenridge to help with flood control efforts there, and another campus group went to Fargo to provide assistance on Tuesday.

Fargo residents Annette and Steve Sprague offered their thanks in a letter sent to UMM: "We had the pleasure of working along side several University of MN Morris students last night at the Fargodome while making sandbags. We want to issue a 'HUGE THANK YOU' to these young men and women for volunteering to come to Fargo to help us in our flood battle. The youth of MN and ND are truly amazing, and on behalf of the Fargo-Moorhead community we are sincerely grateful. We hope you will be able to post this message in some manner because unfortunately we do not have their names to thank them personally!"

Sodexho on campus donated snacks for the volunteers. The owners of McDonald's in Breckenridge, who also own the Morris McDonald's, and Subway of Morris also provided food for the UMM volunteers.

Thousands of volunteers are working around the clock as communities along the Red River brace for what has the potential to be the worst flooding in the region's history.

Experts said late Thursday that now the river could crest at 43 feet by Saturday, and that it could stay at that level for several days. Many rural areas already are being evacuated, and the City of Fargo released contingency evacuation plans Thursday.

Joe Riley, of Riley Brothers, said he received a call at about 7 p.m. Sunday from a contractor in the Fargo-Moorhead area requesting help. By 7 a.m. Monday, Riley Brothers had 20 pieces of equipment on the job. In total, Riley Brothers has between 55 and 60 workers, 10 trucks, five backhoes and nine bulldozers on the job in two 12-hour shifts, building dikes, Riley said.

"They really needed it," Riley said. "They definitely have a problem but they're keeping ahead of it."

Riley Brothers has a long work history in the Fargo area. In fact, one Riley Brothers project is responsible for reducing some of the threat in the West Fargo area. In the mid-1980s, Riley Brothers completed a diversion project that has left West Fargo in pretty good shape in terms of avoiding major damage, he said.

Right now, the crews and equipment are deployed south of Fargo near Interstate 29, working west toward the Sheyenne River, which runs into the Red River. The crews have been awed by the experience.

"They said there's absolutely equipment and trucks everywhere," Riley said. "It's a situation they have not seen before, ever, on this scale. There are people and equipment everywhere."

The Morris Area students got involved almost as quickly as the Riley Brothers' crews.

Teacher Natasha Mortenson said a sign-up sheet posted Wednesday asking students if they'd be willing to help filled up quickly.

"We put the list up at noon and it was full in 10, 15 minutes," said Mortenson from their work location in North Fargo on Thursday morning. "Everyone wanted to help and they're working very, very hard."

About 37 students were joined by teachers and some parents for the day-long work session, and their efforts had Morris ties.

Their first assignment was to help sandbag at a home in North Fargo owned by the 78-year-old father-in-law of Morris Area counselor Tammy Roth. The students also moved household items out of the home's basement into upper floors. They then traveled to the Fargodome to either work there or receive another assignment, Mortenson said.

Morris Area student Sara Beyer said the work was cold and snow fell throughout the day but that the trip was a success.

"It's pretty awesome," Beyer said. "There were signs when you get to town that say 'Bless the volunteers.' All the thank yous mean a lot to us. It's nice to do whatever you can to help."

Morris Area student Nathan Gades joked that the sandbagging in the freezing cold and snow was a good way to get out of school for a day.

"Every person makes a lot of difference," he said.

Some of the volunteers from Riverview Dairy filled bags in Moorhead that were sent to local neighborhoods. Other workers were scattered around on other assignments, Wulf said.

The efforts of all the volunteers in a time of crisis is a unique experience, he said.

"It speaks volumes for the American culture," Wulf said. "This isn't a perfect culture, but when people are in trouble everyone comes to their aid. You see that more in American culture than I have anywhere else around the globe."

Anyone with stories and photos to share of efforts to help with flood control efforts around the region are encouraged to contact the Sun Tribune at (888) 589-2525 or by email at: morrtrib@info-link.net.

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