By Kristen Miller
MOORHEAD, MN - Rising waters in the Moorhead/Fargo area brought a wave of volunteers from Dassel-Cokato, especially hometown students attending college in the flooded area.
Concordia-Moorhead freshman and 2008 DC graduate Dan Thorson, son of Rev. Steve and Toni Thorson of Cokato, figures he put in about 50 hours of sandbagging the week of March 23.
Thorson began sandbagging the Saturday before the river was set to crest, and it was “pretty much continuous work” from then on, he said.
When it didn’t seem there were enough sandbags for the anticipated crest, students began knocking on dorm room doors encouraging all students to get out there and help, Thorson explained.
Students from Concordia, North Dakota State University, and Minnesota State University-Moorhead, all of which had canceled classes to focus on the sandbagging efforts, jumped right in to help.
For Thorson, the beginning of the week was more of a relaxed state despite the constant work.
However, as the week progressed, the crest prediction was raised along with it the stress levels.
On Tuesday, the dikes had been 95 percent completed and classes were rescheduled for Wednesday, Thorson said.
This caused quite an uproar among student volunteers, he said.
“We wanted to finish what we started,” Thorson said.
There was “a swell of student support” to continue helping with the flood relief and they shared their concerns with the president of Concordia, Thorson said.
Though he is unsure of the exact reason, the president canceled classes again for Wednesday. Thorson thinks the students had a big hand in it.
Then, Wednesday, the crest prediction was raised to 41 feet, whereas the day before the river was predicted to crest at 40 feet, Thorson said.
Classes were then canceled for the rest of the week, and the crest prediction was raised again Thursday, two more feet.
This was frustrating for volunteers like Thorson.
“You think the job is done, and then it’s not,” he said.
Every time the crest was raised, all the dikes that had been built, were then too short, Thorson explained.
By Thursday (March 26), sandbagging was a day behind the new crest predictions, he said.
“There was so much demand for more sand, more bags, more volunteers,” Thorson said.
Concordia junior Leah Kay of Dassel was also with the volunteers filling sandbags and building dikes.
When Kay was at track practice Friday (March 20), her coach mentioned to the team how they should take some time and help with sandbagging.
Kay didn’t think too much of it because, at the time, she didn’t think about how bad it would be.
Then, Saturday, one of her roommates from Fargo encouraged her to go sandbag at the Fargo Dome.
“Sunday night, I started realizing just how serious it was going to be,” Kay said.
By the end of the week, Kay was putting in 10 to 12 hours a day sandbagging and helping with the flood relief efforts.
What both Kay and Thorson saw was a great effort being put forth by the college students in the area.
“It was great to see the leadership qualities individuals had, [both] in community members and the students,” Thorson said.
Many times, it was the students who were leading the process, he said.
In order for the dikes to withstand flood waters, they had to be built in a certain pattern, Kay explained.
“At times, there were 40-year-old men asking college students what to do,” Thorson said.
Working long days in the cold and rain, many people ended up sick by the end of the week, which was the case with Kay.
“It was a physically and emotionally draining week,” Thorson said.
Friday (March 27), the campus was evacuated due to the backup of storm sewer and the water having to be turned off, according to Thorson.
Classes were canceled for the week of March 30.
It was difficult for students like Kay and Thorson to evacuate when there was still work to be done.
“It was hard to leave and take myself away from it. It was like leaving a soldier behind,” Kay said.
These are only two stories from the many volunteers from the Dassel-Cokato area including those attending college in the Moorhead-Fargo area who helped with the flood relief effort.