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Flood fighters - hundreds of local volunteers help out Fargo

When adversity strikes, distance seems to melt away. Hundreds of volunteers from the Alexandria area have helped Fargo-Moorhead and other flood-threatened communities in northwestern Minnesota this week. Tastefully Simple and The Alexandria Blizz...

In action
Contributed photo Volunteers who joined in the fight against the rising Red River in Fargo Tuesday included Tastefully Simple team members Lynn Swenson, Becky Evertz, Linda Baltes and Jackie Petrie.

When adversity strikes, distance seems to melt away.

Hundreds of volunteers from the Alexandria area have helped Fargo-Moorhead and other flood-threatened communities in northwestern Minnesota this week.

Tastefully Simple and The Alexandria Blizzard coordinated an effort to send four buses and nearly 200 volunteers from the Alexandria area to Fargo on Tuesday.

The Alexandria Technical College also helped, sending four School District 206 buses filled with more than 200 students to the flood-threatened areas. Scott Berger, dean of law enforcement, coordinated the effort. The students left at 6 a.m. Wednesday and returned later that night.

They joined soldiers, neighbors and other volunteers who slogged through rain, snow and mud, racing to reinforce levees and fill sandbags in the fight against the rising Red River.

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The outpouring of support caught the attention of NBC's The Today Show, which included a report from along the Red River Wednesday morning showing Alexandria high school students lending a hand. One of them, John Mohror, was interviewed.

"It feels good," he said while helping at the scene. "We're not too far from home. It's kind of like helping out the community and they really need the help. So I'm glad to come up."

A host of the show cited the volunteer support as an example of "true American spirit."

NBC Nightly News also included a segment on the Red River flooding that included a short clip featuring Alexandria student volunteer, Eve Hartsell. "People would do the same for us," she said.

In e-mails sent to the Echo Press, team leaders from Tastefully Simple said the experience was rewarding.

"It was a pleasure to be there with community members to assist a community in need of some muscle work," said Becky Everts. "We were all there for the same reason and I know by talking to a home owner it was much appreciated! I was proud to say that I was from Tastefully Simple and the Alexandria community."

"There were a few minor challenges - mud up to our ankles in places, and by the time we were done - Jell-O arms, aching shoulders, and tired bodies," noted Diane Pearson of Tastefully Simple. "But the challenges were insignificant compared to the feeling of great satisfaction from helping people in great need and knowing that we were doing the right thing at the right time."

"Having lived there during the last flood in 1997 [she lived in an apartment and could not even get home] and losing our entire basement during flooding caused by torrential rains in 1999, I feel their pain and know firsthand what a difficult time this is for them," said Jackie Petrie of Tastefully Simple. "I was honored to be there to assist them and be part of a company that recognizes the importance of reaching out to other communities in need."

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An Echo Press online reader, identified as Amber N. from Osakis, posted the following comment on Monday night after reading about the local effort to help flood victims.

"I want to thank everyone for all of the effort that they will put forth in volunteering to help fight the flood in the FM area. As as student at Minnesota State University Moorhead, and as a member of the community, I have already volunteered and will be doing so as long as it is needed. I encourage all who can to come up and help in the efforts. It is a very rewarding experience. Unfortunately things are not looking good, but with the help of many people we can fight the flood of 2009."

Because of wet weather, the forecast for the Red River crest, as of Thursday, was bumped up another foot to 41 feet.

Fargo officials pleaded for another 1,000 to 1,200 volunteers to make 1 million sandbags in the next two days and to man sandbag lines up and down a 12-mile stretch of the Red River and another three miles on the south side.

Officials from both Fargo and Moorhead approved emergency evacuation plans Wednesday.

A testament to the severity of the flooding, the Minnesota and North Dakota congressional delegations met with President Barack Obama Wednesday to update him on the situation. Obama pledged the federal government would support the area through the flood fight and cleanup.

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty also asked the president for a federal disaster declaration for the state's northwest counties.

If you'd still like to volunteer to assist those in the Fargo-Moorhead area, contact First-Link at (701) 476-4000.

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    Staff reporters from The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead contributed to this story.

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