Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



Lots of sand, but no day at the beach at Fargo's Sandbag Central

After a somewhat slow start Monday morning, Fargo's Sandbag Central kicked into high gear just before noon with the arrival of 40 high school students from Fargo Oak Grove Lutheran School.

Volunteers at Sandbag Central
Volunteers gather around one of the city's three sandbag-filling machines Monday at the Fargo solid waste facility otherwise known as Sandbag Central. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

After a somewhat slow start Monday morning, Fargo's Sandbag Central kicked into high gear just before noon with the arrival of 40 high school students from Fargo Oak Grove Lutheran School.

With the additional hands, crews fired up the third of three spider-like sandbag-filling machines. Each machine is capable of filling up to 5,000 sandbags per hour, Fargo Enterprise Director Bruce Grubb said.

The city of Fargo is trying to fill and stockpile 3 million sandbags by mid-March to protect the city from what's expected to be a third consecutive major spring flood.

Officials hope for a minimum of 200 volunteers at all times from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday to keep three spider machines fully staffed at Sandbag Central, 2301 8th Ave. N.

Grubb said the early turnout was better than last year, when enough volunteers showed up to keep one spider machine running. More than 100 volunteers showed up in the first hour.


"So we're really happy about that," he said.

Oak Grove Academic Dean Del Kessler said juniors, seniors and sixth-graders will fill sandbags today.

"The history of Oak Grove, we fought floods and floods, and we know the importance of sandbags," Kessler said.

Tucker Schoenfish, a freshman at Oak Grove, helped sandbag his family's home near the Red River in Briarwood, N.D., during the record flood of 2009. The river inundated the family's basement, he said.

Now two years older and stronger, the 15-year-old said sandbagging should be a little easier - "maybe," he joked.

The Fargo Fire Department has 12 members overseeing the volunteer effort and engine companies volunteering in the morning and afternoon, said spokesman Jesse Schmidt.

Cass County sent 21 jail inmates to help Monday morning. One of them, 24-year-old Brian Johnston of Fargo, also participated in last year's sandbagging effort as an inmate.

Johnston said he filled sandbags with a shovel last year and was looking forward to working on a spider machine, which drops sand down 12 chutes into sandbags.


"It's a little easier, but still hard labor. It's a good workout," he said. "Better than sitting around in jail not doing nothing."

Pop music pumped through speakers hanging from the warehouse ceiling, and inflatable palm trees decorated the floor to give Sandbag Central a more festive atmosphere.

On the front door, organizers paid tribute to Valentine's Day with a pink sign bordered in white hearts with the words "We LOVE Our Flood Volunteers" in black lettering.

Grubb said with the 12-hour daily schedule, if Sandbag Central is fully staffed, "we've got a real good chance of surpassing that 150,000 mark." At that rate, the city would amass 3 million bags in 20 days.

Sandbag Central can handle 400 to 500 volunteers at a time, Grubb said. Each spider machine can use up to 100 volunteers, and stations are set up to fill bags by shovel, as well.

Buffy Riddering of Fargo, an office assistant for Cass County Social Services, was one more than 100 city and county employees participating in the sandbagging Monday.

Riddering, 38, wore a T-shirt identifying her as a "Cass County River Wrangler." She said she helped fill sandbags in the fight against the floods in 2009 and 2010 and apathy hasn't set in this year.

"No, it's actually kind of a rush for me," she said while using a utility knife to unbundle pallets of yellow plastic sandbags. "I like the chaos."


Among the early volunteers was Mike Benson, a retired insurance agent from Fargo. The 62-year-old said he's lived in Fargo since 1974 and has sandbagged several times, including in 1997 when his house was threatened and he received help from volunteers. He no longer lives near the river but said sandbagging is "for the common good of everybody."

Pat Deyle was driving one of the flatbed trucks hauling pallets of sandbags to a storage warehouse in north Fargo's industrial park. The 29-year-old south Fargo resident, whose home has been protected by earthen dikes in past floods, pitched in filling sandbags until the first load was ready to go.

Keith McElwain, 41, who lives nearly 130 miles away in Sauk Centre, Minn., and is currently unemployed, said he heard about the sandbagging effort on a Christian radio station and decided to help out.

Many of Monday night's sandbaggers were city employees, including firefighters, sanitation and landfill workers. But there were families and other groups present as well.

Seventeen-year-old Douglas Thompson had been filling sandbags since 5 p.m. And the fact that it was Valentine's Day did not bother him one bit.

"I like to volunteer and work," Thompson said as he cracked a smile.

Thompson will celebrate his 18th birthday in nine days. And as far as birthday wishes go, the teen said he just wants to keep helping out with sandbagging.

Only a few steps from Thompson, Brit Lorentz and her boyfriend shoveled sand. According to Lorentz, it was worth it to work on Valentine's Day.


"It's fun," Lorentz said. "It's a community effort."

Lorentz lives in Rose Creek and understands the importance of taking action to fight floodwaters, she said.

The Salvation Army and Red Cross are again providing bottled water, coffee and snacks to keep sandbaggers energized.

"They say an army marches on its stomach, so that's where we fit in," said Steve Carbno, disaster coordinator for the Salvation Army of Cass and Clay Counties.

Schmidt said volunteers filled about 30,000 bags on the first day of last year's sandbagging effort.

On Monday, volunteers filled about 61,000 sandbags.

People are encouraged to call (701) 476-4000 or visit http://volunteerstatus.cityoffargo.com to see if volunteers are needed.

The 3 million sandbags are needed to raise Fargo's flood defenses to protect against a river level of 42 feet. Sandbag levees will be built to 43 feet, earthen dikes to 44 feet.


The National Weather Service's latest flood outlook, released Jan. 26, gave the Red River at Fargo a 20 percent chance of reaching 40.7 feet this spring - just shy of the record 40.84 feet in spring 2009 - and a 10 percent chance of hitting 42.6 feet.

Forum reporter Dain Sullivan contributed to this report

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

What To Read Next
Get Local