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'That's me in the picture': 17 years later, subjects of iconic photo recall evacuation in 1997 Red River flood fight

MOORHEAD - Mike Edenborg can still remember the moment when the flood won. It happened at night on April 15, 1997, and he was walking to the back of the house he shared with his then-girlfriend for one last check. They had given up their weeks-lo...

In this file photo, Mike Edenborg and Julie Rodrigues, now Julie Kuehl, move a mounted buck's head plus a board of stuffed walleyes and other belongings to higher ground after Red River floodwaters forced the evacuation of homes in the Town and Country Golf Course area Tuesday, April 15, 1997, in south Moorhead. Bruce Crummy / The Forum

MOORHEAD – Mike Edenborg can still remember the moment when the flood won.

It happened at night on April 15, 1997, and he was walking to the back of the house he shared with his then-girlfriend for one last check. They had given up their weeks-long flood fight earlier in the day when high water made it impossible for trucks to deliver more sandbags to their south Moorhead neighborhood.

“I could hear the sound of water starting to pour into the basement,” Edenborg said recently. “That’s a sound I won’t forget. I heard it, but I didn’t look. I thought ‘No, I don’t want to see it.’ And I just kept going.”

He returned with his cousin, Julie Kuehl, a day or two later to move whatever belongings were left. The house, which belonged to his girlfriend, was one of eight in a small neighborhood north of the old Town and Country Golf Course. All were flooded.

A Forum photographer captured Edenborg and Kuehl hauling a load to Kuehl’s van that was parked nearby on dry land.


Edenborg was wading hip-deep in what appeared to be a lake, towing a canoe containing some of the belongings. Kuehl was in the back of the canoe. In the front was a mounted buck’s head, making it appear as if the buck was also a passenger.

Edenborg said he put it there as a kind of gag.


A lost fight


He and Kuehl were in their 30s the year of the flood – she went by Julie Rodrigues then – and for both it was their first real flood fight.

Since 1997, there have been seven Red River floods high enough to be labeled a “major flood” by the National Weather Service. There was only one flood higher than the one in 1997, and that was in 2009.

Edenborg started the sandbagging in early April 1997 but had to pause during a big blizzard, which froze sandbags and knocked out power in his neighborhood for months. Kuehl and her then-husband, whose home was not threatened by the flood, joined in after they returned from a business trip in Montana.


They were joined by other family and friends, who helped build the sandbag dike and keep around-the-clock watch on the pumps.

Edenborg said he remembers being sent to bed after a long day and lying there listening to the sump pump coming to life as the water level hit the “on” switch and then going quiet as the water went down.

“I could sense that the timing between the sump pump turning off was getting shorter and shorter,” he said. “That’s what caught my attention. Something’s wrong because the sump pump can’t keep up any more and then.”

“There was a slow creeping recognition that we had busted our butts and we were going to lose,” Kuehl said.




By that point, Edenborg said he’d moved most of his and his girlfriend’s belongings to the garages of friends and family. They borrowed a canoe from Moorhead Marine when the water got too high for trucks.


Kuehl said it took three to six canoe loads to fill the van and they filled it two to three times so there must have been more than a few trips between the house and the van.

One time, probably on an earlier trip before the house was evacuated, she said, they took the girlfriend’s dog out and the poor creature was so terrified it was shaking.

By the time the photo was taken, there was very little left in the house.

A lot has changed since then.

Edenborg and the girlfriend broke up a year after the flood, and he’s happily married to someone else – as is the case, he believes, with the girlfriend. Kuehl’s marriage also ended. The three still live in the Moorhead area.

Edenborg said a prerequisite when he bought his new house was that it was on “very high elevation.”

All the houses in the old neighborhood were bought out and moved to higher ground, while the golf course closed in 2007 to make way for Trollwood Performing Arts School.



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Mike Edenborg and Julie Kuehl walk Friday, Dec. 19, 2014, at the Bluestem Center for the Arts in south Moorhead near where a photograph of them was made during the 1997 flood. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

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