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Published April 17, 2009, 12:00 AM

Lisbon patches dike; rural areas swamped

Sheyenne River stabilizes at record 22.84 feet
LISBON, N.D. – The clay levee keeping the Sheyenne River from spilling into Rob Hicks’ backyard developed a crack big enough to require evacuations here on Thursday morning.

By: Dave Roepke, INFORUM

LISBON, N.D. – The clay levee keeping the Sheyenne River from spilling into Rob Hicks’ backyard developed a crack big enough to require evacuations here on Thursday morning.

But it didn’t worry Hicks too much. Like nearly all of his neighbors, he and his family were already gone.

“We’ve been moving our stuff for two weeks,” said Hicks as he stood on his mother-in-law’s porch, where his family was staying. “We’re not stupid.”

As the Sheyenne River stabilized at a record level of 22.84 feet Thursday in this Ransom County city of about 2,200, crews patched the 4-foot-long, 2-inch-wide crack found near where Second Avenue East meets the river in a dead end. It was the second round of evacuations in two days.

Bruce Dougherty, Ransom County public information officer, said the dike’s crack, found about 9:30 a.m., was under control by late morning. Residents of the 23 homes affected were told they could return by 4:15 p.m., he said.

A couple of hours before the all-clear, Betty Ann Tufty, who lives a half-block from the levee, was still trying to grasp how her neighborhood had gone downhill so fast.

“It’s like a death,” she said. “You never think it’s going to happen to you.”

Like Hicks, Tufty wasn’t around to hear about the evacuation. On Wednesday night, she was at her son’s house in Gwinner, N.D. To try to relax, she didn’t listen to the radio all day Thursday. So she was shocked when told by one of the National Guard soldiers controlling traffic that her street was closed.

A few minutes after arriving at her home, Tufty cried at the sight of the pavement on the street crumbling from the traffic of rumbling trucks.

“I’d call it very unsettling. That’s my word,” she said.

The feeling wasn’t confined to city limits. About six miles southeast of Lisbon, Donald Hock’s house in an oxbow of the Sheyenne was now in the Sheyenne. Standing on the steps of the farmhouse – the same structure his grandfather bought in 1886 – Hock saw no landscape. It was all water, as much as 4 feet in places.

The dirt basement was full of water, which the Hocks allowed to create enough pressure to keep walls from collapsing. On the main floor, river water stood an inch below floor grates.

“I think all of us are in shock at this point,” said Donald’s son, Jim Hock. “The realization will come when the cleanup hits.”

Rescue crews will start working their way up a 60-mile stretch of the Sheyenne River today to stop at besieged homes like the Hocks’. The effort starts in Lisbon, said Paul Laney, Cass County sheriff, and will include National Guard trucks.

“We want to get in there early and find out how they’re doing,” Laney said.

Back in Lisbon, Mayor Ross Cole urged residents to conserve water to keep pressure off the sanitary sewer. Flush toilets only when absolutely needed, he said. For weeks the city’s been pumping sewer into the river to relieve stress on the system, said Walt Johnson, city councilman.

The crack discovered on Thursday was behind the home of John and Theresa Feist, who own the Lisbon Cafe. As the cafe’s crowd thinned out midafternoon, Theresa recalled scurrying out of the house in five minutes that morning.

With evacuations on two straight days, the river still looming high and water threatening to overtake the main bridge on the city’s north side, nerves were getting frayed, Feist said.

“You see a lot more stress – myself, too,” she said.

Across the river from the Feist home, residents of the 57 homes evacuated on Wednesday still couldn’t return Thursday. Crews were building clay contingency levees and placing Hesco barriers on Harris Street.

Greg Jensen, who owns two homes in the area, was checking on them midday Thursday. Though he couldn’t get back in his house, or the second home he calls his “playhouse,” it wasn’t as bad there as it was on Wednesday, when workers couldn’t get the storm sewer a half-block away capped.

“It’s looking a lot better today,” Jensen said. “As long as everything holds before they’re done.”


Forum staff writers Mike Nowatzki, Dave Olson and Patrick Springer contributed to this report.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535

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