Fingers crossed as waters crest
Rising floodwaters in Montevideo's Smith Addition mean long nights short on sleep and days devoted to lifting goods to higher ground. Yet most of all, it means business as usual.
"With a little more stress involved,'' said John Gerdes, owner of the NAPA auto parts store in the Smith Addition. Like other Smith Addition businesses, the NAPA store was conducting business as usual Monday as the waters of the Chippewa River continued to rise. Although the city had shut off sanitary sewer services to the area, the power was on and businesses large and small were adjusting to the conditions.
"You work through it,'' said Dr. Katherine Toft, who opened her Montevideo Veterinary Clinic here on the eve of the 2001 flood.
Her business stayed dry then, and she was confident it would be no different this time.
Like gamblers who know their spreads, everyone here can directly equate river elevations with what it means for water at their location.
Gerdes said Monday morning that the current projection for a crest of 20.1 feet at day's end would keep the waters a long way from the doors of the auto parts store. It took a sandbag dike and 24-hour pumping operations to keep the 1997 floodwaters out.
In 1997, the floodwaters rose to 23.9 feet. That translated to exactly 27½ inches of water on the floor of Heather Floral and Nursery, said Duane Hastad, owner. "I was standing in freezing water, watering my plants because it didn't come up enough,'' he said, pointing to the rows of waist-high tables in the greenhouse, all filled once again with sprouting plants.
Hastad was expecting this year's waters to stay outside the front doors, but that didn't make things any easier for him. He spent the last two nights watching over the business as waters rose. During the day Monday he and workers removed trailer-loads of outside inventory to safer grounds.
The water had climbed by 3½ feet over the weekend alone, he noted. "I don't know where it is all coming from,'' he said.
Just a short walk down Chippewa Street, Jerry and Dixie Tilden also spent a night short on sleep watching over their home. Located along the Chippewa River, theirs is one of the lower of the approximately 20 homes remaining in the Smith Addition. There were once 120 homes here.
Jerry Tilden said they had a crew of volunteers help them move the last of their basement furnishings upstairs on Sunday night; they finished at about midnight.
In 1997, floodwaters filled the first floor of their home and arrived faster than anyone had expected. "People we never saw before shoved our stuff into cars and hauled it out. We got it all back, I guess,'' he said.
The 2001 flood filled their basement with seven feet of water. This year he was hoping to keep ahead of it with pumps; groundwater seepage was only coating the basement floor.
Twice during the day on Sunday, city staff went door to door in the Smith Addition to let business owners and residents know about the updated flood forecasts and the need to turn off sanitary sewer services.
Jerry Tilden said they love their location along the river: His basement greenhouse had to be emptied of scores of newly started plants intended for the 13 different garden plots he maintains in their spacious yard.
Tilden said there are currently no flood buyout programs available. The flood history of the area has depressed the value of their home and made it economically prohibitive for them to leave, he explained.
Their only choice is to be ready: A large trailer was parked outside the house on Monday just in case a speedy evacuation was needed.
"It's a fact of life we just deal with,'' he said of the rising waters.
But he noted that the countless trips hauling things up from the basement and the long nights of watching water levels take their toll. "It gets to be less fun,'' he said.