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Published March 31, 2009, 12:00 AM

McFeely: Smaller town, same big story

Hendrum, Minn.
There are no network television cameras in this tiny Minnesota farming community 30 miles north of Moorhead, and the man leading the fight against Red River flooding has not received a telephone call from President Barack Obama.

By: Mike McFeely, INFORUM

Hendrum, Minn.

There are no network television cameras in this tiny Minnesota farming community 30 miles north of Moorhead, and the man leading the fight against Red River flooding has not received a telephone call from President Barack Obama.

That doesn’t change this fact: The job is the same, albeit on a smaller scale, and the fine folks of Hendrum are winning their battle, too.

“We’re feeling pretty good,” said soft-spoken Police Chief Mike Smart, who commands the flood fight from the Hendrum Civic Center on Main Street.

Emergency sirens blew at noon Sunday in Hendrum, setting the town of about 350 into a scramble. Ice jams on bridges north of town were forcing the already out-of-control Red to back up and rise rapidly. That caused concern the water would flow over the permanent 5-foot levee built along the south and west edges of town after the 1997 flood, which would inundate the city. Like its much larger neighbors to the south – Fargo and Moorhead – Hendrum flew into action. A one-block stretch of Main Street became Sandbag Central. Minnesota National Guard troops bivouacked in the elementary school gymnasium. Volunteer cooks whipped up hot meals in the six-table cafeteria at the same school. A church basement was used to serve snacks and soda.

And the volunteers came. And came. And came. When Hendrum put out the call for help to Fargo-Moorhead radio stations Sunday, more than 200 people made a beeline to help fill and toss sandbags. Others brought food and water. A driver from the north Fargo Happy Joe’s delivered fresh pizzas.

Volunteers sandbagged atop the half-mile-long, Z-shaped levee until 1:30 a.m. Monday morning before calling it quits. More returned at 9 a.m. to finish.

Showing a small-town touch, the volunteer meal served Monday was hamburger gravy or turkey gravy served over mashed potatoes. A slice of bread, a cup of fruit salad, a piece of cake and a small carton of milk rounded out the feast.

A high school-aged boy flashed the thumbs-up sign when asked to grade the food.

“He’s from Ada-Borup, so you know it’s good if he says so,” teased Darlene Gunderson, who was helping serve meals Monday.

Ada-Borup and Norman County West, the cooperative high school attended by Hendrum kids, are strong rivals.

Hendrum sits about a mile from the Red, but its waters have formed a massive lake that stretches over vast expanses of the landscape. In some spots, the water covers two-mile-wide swaths of Minnesota and North Dakota.

That causes problems for farmers like Terry Guttormson, whose farm between the town and the river was surrounded by floodwaters. Fearing his permanent ring dike might not be high enough, Guttormson asked that about 5,000 sandbags be delivered by the Minnesota National Guard so he could raise the dike.

Using two huge five-axle military vehicles specially made for delivering pallets, the Guard drove a half-mile over roads covered by rushing 4-foot water to deliver sandbags to Guttormson’s farm. About 15 volunteers shuttled by fishing boat to reach the farm.

As of Monday afternoon, all was well.

“It’s a lot better than (Sunday). When you have a rush of water rising around you, coming within 6 inches of the top of your dike, it is kind of scary,” said Hendrum Mayor Curt Johannsen. “We have a strong community, and we are getting so much support from others. It’s mind-boggling.”

Hendrum is a smaller place, but it’s the same big story. And it never gets old.


Forum columnist Mike McFeely can be heard from 1 to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on WDAY-AM (970). He can be reached at (701) 241-5580 or mmcfeely@forumcomm.com. McFeely’s blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/mcfeely

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