Events of Thursday, March 26, 2009
Location: Fargo, North Dakota
Disaster: Red River Flooding
Happy 10th Anniversary to me!
Yes, it's my 10th wedding anniversary - and I wake up in Fargo, ND - to find it is STILL snowing (geez, does it ever stop here?) and it is STILL cold. The temperature is 16 degrees, with a windchill below zero.
We arrive at Headquarters at 8:00 am....as we were told that our briefing would be at 8:00 am. So, we sit. No briefing. We sit some more. It is now 10:00 am, and we STILL have not had a briefing. Remember - patience is a virtue with the Red Cross. Finally, around 10:15, we get a briefing from Cliff, our Shelter Director. Not much has changed - we are still working with FEMA on setting up shelters...although Cliff warns us to be careful driving around the city, as we have had 2 Red Cross vehicles involved in accidents so far. With injuries. Not fun.
After the briefing, Cliff dismisses us - and says we are free to return to our hotels and await for deployment. Again, we are warned: team leaders need to have their cell phones handy.
I gather my team and we head to the FargoDome.
This is where Sandbag Central has been taking place. We walk into the arena and we are astounded at what we see. It looks like a giant anthill...we enter the arena from above, and on the arena floor are thousands of volunteers, filling millions of sandbags. There are semi-trucks, dump trucks, and other vehicles driving back and forth (almost a scene from a monster truck rally) unloading sand, loading sandbags, and creating a dust storm.
There is loud rock and roll music blaring from the speakers. And it is phenomenal. I stand in awe - as I see a community pulling together for a common purpose - to save their town. Young, old, black, white - volunteers working side by side, determined to get to 3 million sandbags.
I ask someone what the count is so far - and it is at 2.2 million - and rising. CNN is there, filming. Very, very interesting.
We leave the FargoDome at 11:30 with the intention of making a trip to Walmart for supplies - when my cell phone rings. It's Cliff, telling me to get my team and get back to HQ - within 30 minutes. We've been assigned.
We hightail it back - to find we're opening a shelter in Moorhead, MN - about 5 miles due east of Fargo. We will be based at Moorhead Senior High School - home of the Spuds (seriously) - and we will be able to shelter up to 500 people.
We carpool the 5 miles to Moorhead...and it takes 90 minutes. No joke. Apparently, we have to cross the Red River to get to Moorhead. And all bridges - except for two - are now closed, due to high water. So the traffic is horrendous. I don't think I've ever been so frustrated - 5 miles in 90 minutes???!! Come on, people!!!
There are 3 teams assigned - and Frank, our site manager, takes myself and the other 2 supervisors, on a quick walk through of the school. This school is only 5 years old - and it is HUGE. And it has not one, but TWO ice rinks inside. (It's Minnesota, after all). We're setting up operations in the gym - and now the fun begins. Our first clients are expected to arrive within 3 hours - so we must get registration tables set up; trucks unloaded; cots set up; blankets set up; a "kitchen/canteen" area set up; signage put on the walls; an information desk set up - are you getting the picture here? And we have 15 volunteers and a site manager. Time to bust our butts.
It's now time to set up shifts. My team has voted to take the night shift - it will be quieter and a little less stressful - so we are dismissed at 6:30 pm and told to come back at 10:30 pm to work a 8.5 hour shift. Not much time to sleep, huh?
Getting back to the shelter that night is much easier. The local law officials have recognized the traffic situation, and they have closed the roads to everyone but emergency personnel - so we breeze through.
Arriving at the shelter, a bus pulls up - with a busload of clients. It's somewhat crazy for awhile, getting everyone registered and assigned a bed...but eventually, it gets done, and our shift continues until 7:00 am. We're exhausted - we're not used to staying up all night - but it's a good exhaustion.
We stumble back to the hotel - and when I open the door to my room, there's 2 dozen roses! And 2 boxes of chocolates! Michael remembered that it was our anniversary! I am overwhelmed!
I crash into bed and try to sleep.
The adventure will continue....