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Ready for flood overflow if needed

The Emmanuel Community in Detroit Lakes is getting ready to accept evacuees from Fargo-Moorhead if the metro area is once again hit by a major spring flood.

And if that happens, a flood of local volunteers is going to be needed, along with temporary donations of beds, TVs, radios, chairs, linens, night stands, recliners and other items for the displaced residents and staff.

Emmanuel's parent company, Ecumen, operates Evergreen senior housing in Fargo (with 45 housing units) and Moorhead (with 30 units).

Those residents were evacuated to Detroit Lakes for 10 days during the major spring flood in 2009, and they will be again this year if necessary, said Ashley McNally, housing director for Emmanuel Community, which is getting ready to accept an estimated 65 Evergreen residents if necessary.

"Detroit Lakes as a city did a fabulous job of providing our residents with anything they asked for (during the 2009 flood)," McNally added.

And she should know. Back then she was housing director for the Evergreen units in Fargo-Moorhead that had to be evacuated.

This time, city officials in Fargo-Moorhead hope to be more organized and avoid last-minute evacuations, to minimize the stress felt by dislocated seniors, McNally said.

City officials will order any senior living facility evacuations based on factors like the current and projected flood stages, how the dikes are holding up, and precipitation in the forecast, McNally said.

"The plan is to evacuate Evergreen units in Fargo and Moorhead -- some will go with family, some will go to Emmanuel nursing home, if they need a more secure environment, and the rest will go to Union Central," she said.

Union Central is the newly-opened senior living complex located at the site of the former Washington School in Detroit Lakes.

Bonnie Mohs is housing director at Union Central, which is operated by the Emmanuel Community.

"It's better to be prepared and not needed than needed and not be prepared," Mohs said of planning for the possible evacuation.

In 2009, the evacuations were called by city officials without much lead time, and Becker County Transit responded to the emergency and sent four buses to ferry residents to Emmanuel.

"It's scary to older people to have to go at the last minute," Mohs said.

This time the cities are lining up transportation, and making sure there is proper equipment, such as wheelchair lifts, ambulances, stretchers and similar items.

"We just have to welcome them and make them feel at home," Mohs said.

"And a big part of that is going to be volunteers," McNally added.

Because Union Central is designed for senior living, not nursing home care, volunteers will be needed to watch the exits 24 hours a day to make sure memory-impaired evacuees don't wander away.

"We just need someone at the doors to redirect them," Mohs said. "It would be the perfect thing in the evenings for high school students to sit and do their homework (while keeping an eye on the doors). They can get their volunteer hours in while doing homework -- now that's a deal."

Other volunteers are needed to visit with the displaced residents, play board games with them or work puzzles.

"Just pastime things to get their minds off of 'how high is the river?'" Mohs said.

"Detroit Lakes has a reputation for stepping up whenever there's a need," she added. "It's a community that I find to be just phenomenal."

The five full-time residents of Union Central are preparing to pitch in and help with evacuees.

"They looked at it as an opportunity to volunteer," Mohs said. "Not everybody can sandbag, but people can help fight the flood in this way. I appreciate their attitude, that good old Detroit Lakes attitude -- willing to share."

Emmanuel will bring meals over to Union Central, and the residents will eat in the large dining room with the evacuees.

Union Central also has a large, comfortable "family room" with a large-screen TV and a fireplace, as well as a dining room where residents can share meals with their families.

If TV sets can be found, ACS has offered to provide free cable to evacuees at Union Central.

And in 2009, the Edgewater Condominiums provided free rooms to Ecumen staff members so they wouldn't have to try to drive back and forth to Fargo-Moorhead during the flood.

Emmanuel hopes to line up community volunteers ahead of time. Call Barb Schiller at 844-7162 if you are interested in volunteering time or loaning beds, furniture or other items for use during the evacuation.