By Janell Cole
For months after the June 22, 2011, mandatory evacuation and devastating floods in Minot, N.D., Misty Weed didn’t know what to do with her water-ravaged house. The Souris River had swamped her two-story home with 7 feet of water on the main floor, destroying her house and livelihood — a home-based child-care service.
As she and her 11-year-old son waited out the winter in a trailer supplied by the federal government, she contemplated the enormity of restoring the house to a livable condition.
Then she got a visit from Terry Haider, a construction manager from Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, and they walked through her house.
“That’s when I truly, honestly started thinking that this was doable — that I would come back home,” she says. “He just happened to be the one who said, ‘We’re going to help you and you don’t have to worry.’”
A year after the out-of-control Souris River, swelled by record snowfall and rain, overran the region’s dams, swamped area levees and forced 12,000 Minot residents and many others in the valley from their homes, the work of rebuilding thousands of houses goes on.
ELCA Disaster Response continues to remain in the region since the flooding, coordinating volunteers and meeting both short-term and long-term recovery needs. In collaboration with Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota and other faith-based and secular organizations, ELCA Disaster Response is still working in the region to provide long-term support and services.
The ELCA is also playing a vital role in Hope Village, a one-stop service center where volunteers can eat and sleep and access supplies, assignments and transportation as they continue mucking out flooded homes and working to eradicate mold.
It takes between $80,000 and $100,000, not counting labor and the cost of mechanical/utility systems, to restore an average flooded house, said Rhonda Thompson, a ward county director from Lutheran Social Services.
Misty knew of the work by Lutherans because its volunteers (and many other groups) helped muck out and gut the house’s first floor down to a shell and “button it up” for the winter.
This spring, after the visit from Terry, Lutheran volunteers from several states have been at Misty’s house to hang and finish drywall, level the floor, install new windows, rebuild stairs and insulate. She’s been able to reopen her business at her parents’ house and has paid for much of the rebuilding materials herself. She’s also often there working in the evenings after volunteers have left for the day.
An emergency evacuation
Several blocks away, on the other side of the river, retired couple Hugo and Joanne Fursteneau, said they had to evacuate their home so quickly last June that they couldn’t grab spare clothing or any possessions. In the rebuilding process, the Fursteneaus have hired some of the work done but also depended on Lutheran volunteers, who painted walls and laid floor tile. One even helped replant flowers.
“We never could have done it without them,” Joanne says. While waiting to move back, they live in a government trailer parked alongside their house.
Al Wessel, a member of Lakeview Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Madison, Wis., was one volunteer at the Fursteneaus’ house laying tile. He came “to help out. I like to build and repair,” he says modestly.
Across the street from the Fursteneaus, Cherie Mergel says that without aid from ELCA members and others, she and her husband, Lloyd, would not be able to afford to rebuild the home her parents constructed themselves between 1948 and 1952 and in which the Mergels have lived since 2005.
The volunteer efforts are “wonderful, fantastic; love it,” she says, with tears welling up and her voice breaking.
The Mergels, both retired, fled their home on June 21, 2011. They live in a government trailer in their front yard and are actively engaged in monitoring the rebuild, including paying for a portion of the supplies and replacement materials themselves. Other materials come from donated supplies at the Recovery Warehouse.
Lutheran volunteers and others have installed windows, subflooring, siding, insulation and drywall and will continue to work through the summer until the Mergels can move back in.
Because the rebuilding is an ecumenical effort, other Christians from Wisconsin recently worked on the Mergels’ house for a week.
They came to Minot, “Because the Lord led us here,” said Jerry Katt of Sheboygan, Wis.