FARGO, N.D. (BP)–City officials and residents of the twin cities of Fargo, N.D., and Moorhead, Minn., were relieved that the Red River crested at just below 41 feet March 28, but they were waiting to see how the dikes would hold as a blizzard approached Monday.
“The flood levels were not as great as potentially predicted,” Durward Garrett, pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Fargo, told Baptist Press March 30.
“The authorities predicted levels that were higher than they turned out to be, so that was very good news. The levels did not stay at their extreme height as long as people thought they might,” Garrett said. “They’ve been going down since Saturday, not very much, but a little bit. So people are encouraged.”
Fred MacDonald, disaster relief director for the Dakota Baptist Convention, reported that a feeding unit from the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention and one from the Baptist Convention of Iowa were operating at West Fargo High School.
“They’re preparing their first meal right now,” MacDonald told BP Monday morning. “They’ll have beef stew for lunch today. They’ll be preparing about 1,700 meals today and then 1,700 meals for dinner tonight.”
The numbers of people who have been displaced by the flooding are small, he said, amounting to about 200 people divided into three shelters within the Fargo-Moorhead area.
About 600 of the meals prepared by Southern Baptist disaster relief workers were being given to the Salvation Army for distribution, MacDonald said, and West Fargo High School was not serving as a shelter but instead is the command center for the Red Cross and other relief operations.
Any remaining meals were being given to Temple Baptist Church, which in turn was going to distribute them at a homeless shelter.
“Even though the disaster numbers are small right now, our Southern Baptist teams are going to be able to make a powerful impact in the community,” MacDonald said.
The Red River dropped Sunday to below 40 feet, and by Monday morning it was just over 39 feet, MacDonald said.
“When it gets down to 38 feet is when the city will be able to come off high alert. They think that might happen Saturday,” he said. “The big concern we have right now with the river is that we have a blizzard coming in later today and tomorrow, and I’ve heard varying reports of 5 to 7 inches of new snow expected as well as very high winds tomorrow.
“The winds are going to be coming from the east, which is an unusual kind of storm for this area,” MacDonald said. “What it means is that there will be 1- to 2-foot waves pushing up against the Fargo side of the dike.”
Any major breach of the dike would likely come Tuesday, he said, and if that doesn’t happen, most people will consider the overall situation a manageable disaster.
“Obviously it’s still devastating to those who are impacted by it, but not as bad as it could have been,” MacDonald said. “So if folks could be praying throughout the day today and tomorrow, we’re very concerned about the high winds. I’ve heard several folks say the snow itself won’t have a whole lot of impact on the level of the river, but the winds could cause damage.”
One specific prayer request, MacDonald said, is for Oak Grove Lutheran School in Fargo. A dike had been protecting the campus, but it broke Saturday night and they lost most of their buildings.
“Their school principle spoke at the city meeting yesterday morning and gave a wonderful testimony of the faithfulness of Christ,” MacDonald said. “So if folks would be praying for the people of the Oak Grove Lutheran School as they deal with the disaster but also as they have opportunity to testify of Christ’s faithfulness.”
Garrett, pastor of Temple Baptist, said people in his community believe there’s a good chance they’ll come out of the situation without having to evacuate their homes and without widespread property loss.
“I think in the Fargo city itself there have been five homes that have been lost,” Garrett said. “In the larger county area, there have been significantly more than five. But people, I think, are feeling encouraged.
“There continues to be a great volunteer effort. People are putting together sandbags. The authorities and the National Guard have sort of taken over responsibility to maintain what’s been established. They do continual walking evaluations of the diking,” Garrett said.
On Sunday, worship services received attention from news media, he said.
“In our own church, we had a smaller attendance, but we had a good attendance and I think people were glad to get together and pray and worship and sing and just kind of remind ourselves that God is in control and we can trust Him,” Garrett said.
“I think that mood has been the mood of many here that we need to trust God. We’ve done all we can. The city leaders have led a good response to the flood, so we need to now just really put those things in God’s hands. That’s encouraging,” he said.
Schools in the Fargo area will be closed all week, Garrett said, and the city is cautiously optimistic that progress is being made.
“The cold weather has allowed the flood to recede because there’s been no further melting of the snow and ice, and that way the river has been able to go down,” he said. “Once we get some warmer weather, there will be a greater influx of water into the river basin.
“… The week’s temperatures are supposed to stay cold, so people are again encouraged that there won’t be a significant increase at least this week, and that would allow some of the water to get through the system before another influx comes.”
Garrett said it’s obvious prayer had made a difference: Community leaders have made wise decisions and the weather has been “about as good as we could expect in this situation.”
“We’re kind of in a holding pattern, and the authorities are doing a good job,” he said. “The emergency personnel are doing a wonderful job, so we’re thankful to the Lord for them and thankful for the chance to stay in our homes.”
MacDonald said if a dike ends up breaking because of the blizzard winds, a need to evacuate people from Fargo could arise.
“If they get more than 50 miles or so out, we may have to move one of our feeding units to a more westerly location,” MacDonald said. “They like to be within 30 minutes driving time of the shelters if they can. It’s a little harder out here in the Dakotas because of the distance between things, but if we can get a feeding unit sort of every 100 miles or so, that will enable us to basically have a feeding unit within 50 miles of any shelter.
“That’s a decision that will be made tomorrow or Wednesday based on what happens with our dikes. So far the dikes have been holding well,” he said.
Disaster relief teams from Kentucky, Illinois, Tennessee, Missouri and Michigan have been placed on alert for Fargo, and a feeding unit from the Kansas Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists was going to be deployed once the blizzard conditions lifted, according to the North American Mission Board.
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.