Help pours into Hendrum, Perley
HENDRUM, Minn. - With a clay dike built across U.S. Highway 75 on the south end of town, residents felt relatively comfortable early Sunday as the Wild Rice and Red rivers inched closer to their predicted crests.
Then, the Red River rose about 3 feet in just a couple of hours Sunday morning, threatening the permanent and temporary levee system.
But it wasn't a river that poured into this Norman County community of 320.
Rather, it was a flood of volunteers -- an estimated 300 of them -- who filled thousands of sandbags, reinforced five spots around the community and added 18 inches to the temporary dike across Highway 75.
They worked from noon Sunday until 3 a.m. Monday, and then returned at 8 a.m., completing the project at about 3 p.m.
"It was pretty miserable for the volunteers, but they got the job done," said Mike Smart, Hendrum's emergency services officer.
Water nearly surrounded the community, the way it did back in 1997.
"The Red was surging, but nobody was able to tell us why the Red was surging like that," Smart said.
By Monday, local officials learned that seven major ice jams had been reported between Hendrum and Nielsville, Minn., which are separated by 18 miles of Highway 75, which is closed because of water two miles north of Hendrum.
Normally, the Red River flows northward about one mile west of Hendrum. The Wild Rice passes by three-fourths of a mile to the east, emptying into the Red about four miles northwest of town.
On Monday afternoon, the Red River was rushing over the top of Highway 75 on the south end of Hendrum, where it met backed-up water from the Wild Rice.
National Guard troops from Redwood Falls, Minn., walked the temporary dikes Monday, measuring the flow of the Red River across the highway.
At noon Monday, Wild Rice at Hendrum and the Red River at Halstad, Minn. -- six miles to the north -- were within three-tenths of an inch of their 1997 record crests. But indications were that the rivers were stabilizing or slowly dropping, at least temporarily.
News from the south gave locals hope.
The Red River had fallen significantly at Fargo.
And in Perley, Minn. -- just six miles to the south -- the Red River dropped a couple of inches Monday.
"Of course, we're waiting for the big storm, and that's kind of scary," Perley Mayor Ann Manley said.
The National Guard was monitoring a makeshift levee across Highway 75 that allows the only access into the town of 111.
Like Hendrum, Perley sits about a mile east of the Red River.
Residents had some tense moments last week, when the crest forecast rose to 43 feet -- a foot higher than the town's levee protection of 42 feet.
"That was a hopeless, sinking feeling," the mayor said.
The community made plans to evacuate the town. But before that was necessary, the crest prediction was lowered again. Five of the community's elderly residents have left town to stay with family.
All the rest have stayed behind to help when volunteers are needed and watch the river levels.
Many of the locals pass their time at the Perley Volunteer Fire Department, where volunteers have been preparing home-cooked meals every day.
Manley said the 26 National Guard soldiers arrived in town with about 70 cases of meals-ready-to-eat -- enough to last a couple of weeks.
Instead of MREs, they're sitting down to meals of ham and scalloped potatoes, turkey dumpling soup and pumpkin bars, for example.
"Now, they're making requests," she said.
The soldiers are lodging in the Kirkebo Lutheran Church in Perley.
As in Hendrum, Manley said Perley has been relying on an army of volunteers from all around the region, from as far away as the Twin Cities.
Back in Hendrum, besides shoring up levees Monday, volunteers filled another stockpile of sandbags in case they're needed later.
"With another snowstorm coming and the possibility of a rapid melt, we might have to worry about a second crest," said Smart, who is Hendrum's assistant fire chief and the town's only police officer.
"For now, we'll just sit and wait," he said. "Hopefully, we can get some sleep."
He had no sooner spoken those words when a call came in from a farm across the Red River, on the North Dakota side. The resident said three pumps could not keep up with water seeping through its dikes.