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Perham students sandbagging

Floods affecting East Otter Tail County, students responding

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Floods affecting East Otter Tail County, students responding
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PERHAM - It's wet outside in East Otter Tail, but an hour west of here--it's flooding.

That's why there are several groups, most notably students, that traveled west to the Fargo-Moorhead area this week to toss sandbags.


Squadrons of students departed from New York Mills and Perham this week to volunteer on the front lines of the Red River flood fight. In Perham, 390 students and staff were scheduled to travel to Fargo-Moorhead March 25.

Some township roads flooded

Meanwhile, on the home front, the battle against high water has been, by and large, an inconvenience in the East Otter Tail lake country.

High water has poured over some township roads. In Perham Township, water had eroded some sections of road down several feet by the beginning of the week. Throughout East Otter Tail County, orange construction cones and neon flags were set up to mark flood danger spots for drivers.

Pumps at lake homes on low-lying lots are running around the clock. There are reports of wet basements as well.

Perham city, firefighters are pumping water

"The Perham area is blessed with sandy soil, so we're usually fortunate in not having a whole lot of storm water issues. The water usually percolates down fairly quickly," said Perham City Manager Kelcey Klemm. "But this year, with the extraordinary amount of snow, and now the rain, it is a unique situation."

The main challenge for Perham city crews was to open up frozen storm water drains--many of which remained frozen, while the snow rapidly melted above.

"The Perham Fire Department has been out doing some pumping," Klemm said. "The pumper trucks have been out moving water in areas where there is a threat of property damage."

Perham High School students aid Moorhead flood relief

Nine students made the journey to Moorhead on Monday to help fill sandbags.

The crew worked from 5 to 9 p.m. at a site near Minnesota State University-Moorhead filling sandbags to shore up dikes along the Red River.

"It was almost like an assembly line; they had a really good system," said Elena Arvig, one of the flood relief volunteers from Perham who worked Monday night. "There was a lot of lifting and shoveling. Everybody was pretty sore and tired--but we decided to go back tonight (Tuesday)."

Arvig added: "It was an awesome experience. Everyone was so grateful we were there...and impressed that a group of 16 to 17-year-olds would drive over for an evening, drive back, and then get up for school the next morning."

Safety first on water-covered roads, says engineer

High water has closed three county roads, 13 total are impacted, and there are scattered reports of water on township roads throughout Otter Tail County.

But safety first is the message from Otter Tail County highway engineer Rick West.

"If you come across any road with water over it--don't try to cross," West said. "Safety is our number one concern. As a driver, you don't know whether the road is washed out underneath."

"On the east side, we don't typically have as much of an issue with run-off, because of the lighter soil," West said. "But it is unusual this year, because the frost isn't out...and there are culverts that are still frozen up."

Otter Tail County roads that are closed or seriously threatened include:

- County 10 west of Elizabeth.

- County 24 east of Rothsay.

- County 30 northwest of Pelican Rapids.

Flood clean-up crews will be in demand

Volunteers by the thousands are lending a hand in the Red River Valley.

Perham High School Principal John Rutten said he is considering coordinating a relief effort later in the spring, because the work doesn't end when the water recedes.

Clean-up after a major flood is about as much work as the pre-flood labor, but usually with fewer volunteers.

"Clean-up is not as sexy and glamorous, but flood communities can always use help," Rutten said.

The Breckinridge area, where Rutten has some contacts, will be in desperate need of help when the flood has passed.