Friday, March 27, 2009


The Red River is due to crest at 43 feet, which is about the height of dikes built in Fargo. People are still working in the snow and sub-freezing weather; and people are evacuating.

I like Fargo. Patrick knows a lot of people up there and is crazy about the town. He'd like to live there. He's stuck in the Twin Cities while the legislature is in session, and is feeling bad about not going up to help. Given his age and back and joint problems, he would not be able to sandbag. But there are doubtless other jobs.

For those who may not know, there are two reasons for Red River flooding. The river runs north to Hudson Bay. This means the lower reaches are still frozen when the upper reaches begin to fill with spring melt. So the water can't simply run down the river into the bay.

The other problem is the Red River Valley, which is the bed of the old glacial Lake Agassiz. The river is tiny when it isn't flooding, with low banks, surrounded by an absolutely flat plain until you reach the low hills that are the lake's old shore.

(Patrick and I were at the science fiction conference in Grand Forks years ago. As a treat, the conference arranged an excursion on the Red River. The boat -- a little pretend river steamboat -- had to find a wide spot in the Red River to turn around. In most places the river wasn't wide enough, or deep enough, for the boat to make its turn. This is the same river that was 19 miles wide back in 1997.)

So you have a river that is going to back up, if there's enough water in it, running through a region with no high ground.

Because Fargo got through the last big flood in pretty good shape, it doesn't have the dikes that were built in Grand Forks and Winnipeg.

North Dakota is the only state in the union that is losing population, and they welcome a fair number of refugees. In the last big flood, there were stories about Kurdish refugees who had ended in Grand Forks. This time, I read a story about an Iraqi family in Fargo. The father was helping with the sandbagging. He said he wasn't that disturbed about having to deal with a flood. The people in North Dakota were nice. He liked helping them. "We have troubles back in Iraq too."

Somehow, that sounded like the perfect North Dakota response.

Patrick said volunteers had come from as far away as Florida to help with the sandbagging.


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