Entering the flood zone


Minot, N.D. - An extremely snowy winter followed by a very wet spring gave residents in the small town of Minot, N.D., an idea a flood was coming, but the damage left by back-to-back floods this summer was unimaginable.

MINOT, N.D. — An extremely snowy winter followed by a very wet spring gave residents in the small town of Minot, N.D., an idea a flood was coming, but the damage left by back-to-back floods this summer was unimaginable.

About 11,000 residents were forced from their homes and around 4,100 houses were destroyed. Businesses were closed, some for good. The start of school was delayed due to the loss of three elementary schools and a junior high school, and even now students are returning to modular trailers instead of classrooms to receive their education.

Yet residents in Minot, which is located 101 miles north of Bismark, are starting to rebuild their lives, their homes, and in some cases, their businesses. Dr. Amy Wall and her husband, Dr. Tyler Hunsker, both Iowa State graduates, are attempting to rebuild all three.

Just like the rest of Minot, Wall and Hunsker hoped the town was safe from flooding. The last big flood occurred in 1969, and the city built three dikes to stop the Souris River, which runs through the middle of town, from overflowing again. When the huge rainstorms began on Memorial Day, those hopes quickly diminished.

On May 31, the West Oak Animal Hospital, a mixed-animal practice, began the arduous task of dismantling. All of the contents of the clinic were removed with the help of staff, clients, friends and family of Wall and Hunsker. A barricade was built around the building.

All the while, Wall and Hunsker were removing the contents of their basement due to the imminent flooding of their home. The couple's accountant and her assistant even came to dig out the perennials Wall had planted around her home.

The first flood left the clinic intact. The couple's home flooded in the basement, but since everything had been removed, damage was minimal. They were able to set up shop in their garage, where they worked filling prescriptions for clients for about a week until they were able to get back into the clinic.

A couple of weeks later on Father's Day, a media conference was called. City officials presented residents with ominous news. Canada, located just an hour north of Minot, was hit with a huge rainstorm. Instead of the Souris River flowing through town, Minot was going to have a lake.

Twenty-four hours after that devastating news, Wall and Hunsker once again had everything cleared out of their practice.

The next day, the clinic was gutted. Cabinets were removed. Window frames were taken down. Even the door jams were salvaged. A mandatory evacuation was ordered the next day.

Three days after the media conference, water submerged most of Minot. The West Oak Animal Hospital was under eight feet of water, causing $150,000 in damages. Wall and Hunsker's home, which they share with their 7- and 5-year-old sons, was submerged under five feet of water, also causing about $150,000 in damages. While the couple had flood insurance on the home, they did not have it on the clinic. Now, they do.

"It was a war zone," Wall recalls. "Our town was split in half. There was one road in and out of town that they struggled to keep open. An emergency hospital had to be opened on the one side of town because people couldn't get to the hospital on the other side of town. An emergency grocery store was opened, too. But they did maintain that road."

The Souris Valley Animal Shelter set up an emergency shelter for pets of families forced to evacuate. The shelter remained open for more than two months, closing on Aug. 30, after having cared for 600 pets. The Pinkerton Animal Hospital assisted with the shelter.

The Minot Veterinary Clinic also had to shut down for a brief period of time due to the floods. The small-animal portion of the clinic was shut down for two weeks after the first flood, as clients couldn't make it to their appointments, says Sharon Neshem, office manager. The large-animal portion of the practice shut down for a day or two half-days because of the flooding. A veterinarian at that practice also suffered damage to his home.

Wall, Hunsker and their children were forced to move in with family for several weeks, while searching for a new home, where they again worked out of a garage.

"We tried to keep going as best we could," Wall says. "At times it seemed overwhelming. It would be one thing if it were one or the other (home or business), but with both ... Fortunately, no one in Minot died. We didn't lose a single soul. Unfortunately, there have been a few suicides since the flood."

After several moves, the family is finally beginning to feel settled, although everyone is sick of moving. They purchased a new home, a challenge in itself due to a recent oil boom for the area, and have been trying to return to normal. Their belongings are stored in five or six different locations, and while it's still difficult to find things, very little was truly lost.

"We felt we had to try to keep going," Wall says. "One, we didn't want to have to lay off any staff. Two, we wanted to keep our income. At times we just wanted to walk away. It's been interesting."

The family's new home is serving as a temporary clinic. The Wall-Hunskers live upstairs and work out of the basement. They are able to do everything except X-rays, but currently are searching for a portable X-ray machine.

"For the most part, we are able to function fairly decently," Wall says.

Still, they hope to move back into their previous location by the spring, even though there is a good chance the area will flood again.

As the city focuses on rebuilding, the new challenge is finding materials. Construction materials are greatly needed, as well as funds. Actor Josh Duhamel, a native of Minot, returned home Labor Day weekend with his wife, Fergie, of the Black Eyed Peas, to assess the damage first-hand. The Black Eyed Peas held a benefit concert to raise money for the town.

Wall continues to be cautiously optimistic.

"So many homes were lost, I don't know what the economic future for the area holds," she says. "We own the building we're in, so once we knew we were fine (from the flooding), we began looking at clean up. That's going to be our option, our hope for the future."

Businesses or individuals interested in donating cash, product or registering as a volunteer can log on to North Dakota's National Donations Management Network portal at www.nd.gov/des/donations. Individuals or businesses can also call (701) 725-4995 or fax (701) 725-4604 to make a product donation.

Ms. Macejko is a freelance journalist in Cleveland, Ohio.

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