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Local volunteers hit the road to help sandbag along Red River

Jeff Johnson, of Spicer, carries boots and a pack of warm clothes with him early Friday morning before boarding a school bus in New London to go to Fargo-Moorhead to volunteer in flood prevention efforts along the Red River. About 50 volunteers from the area made the trek today to help sandbag around homes threatened by record-high water levels.

NEW LONDON - Shortly after 5 a.m. today volunteers came toting boots, travel mugs of hot coffee and the desire to help people battle the Red River flood waters.

More than 50 volunteers from the area boarded buses in the Peace Lutheran Church parking lot in New London on a mission to help shore up the wall of sandbags in Fargo and Moorhead.

People there are "feeling pretty rejected and that they're facing a battle that's about to be lost," said Dave Eliason, as he addressed the volunteers in the school bus."We hope we can make a difference today."

Eliason, executive director at Green Lake Lutheran Ministries in Spicer, and his wife, Liz, spearheaded the volunteer effort.

They have a son at Concordia College and friends who live in Fargo/Moorhead area.

"We talked to them throughout the week," said Liz Eliason. "And just hearing the desperation in their voices, I just felt I needed to go."

That sentiment was shared by others on the buses.

"They need help and it's the right thing to do," said Robert Nelson, of Spicer.

"It feels like the right thing to do," said Angie Whitcomb, of Lake Lillian. "Someday I might be in need of help, and it sounds like they're in dire need."

Lori Carnes, of Atwater, had no reservations about braving the frigid temperatures to help sandbag along the river.

"We're supposed to help each other, right? That's the way it should be," said Carnes.

"Something could happen to us and you look forward to people coming to help you so, they need help, we need to go, right?" said Carnes, who was carrying a good supply of warm clothes with her on the bus.

"Come on girls, let's get on board," she added to the women in her group.

Claudia Balay was serving as chaperone to seven Boy Scouts from troop 228 from New London. The students had the day off and are going to spend the day sandbagging.

Jim and Carol Sandin, of Spicer, have a son in Fargo whose family has cleared out their basement and plugged the sewer drains in preparation of the expected flood waters. Feeling confident that their family was going to be OK, the Sandins were going today to help out the rest of the community.

"We'll do what little bit we can do," said Carol Sandin.

Jeff Johnson, of Spicer, has been to New Orleans three times and just returned from Houston three weeks ago to "help those who can't help themselves" by rebuilding homes destroyed in hurricanes.

He said it feels good to helping someone closer to home this time, adding that volunteers will also be needed after the floodwaters recede and cleanup begins.

"I hope people step up to the same level to help with the cleanup that they did to prevent it," said Johnson.

The volunteers weren't sure where they would be put to work but expected to be outdoors.

Dave Eliason said they'd been warned about icy road conditions and flood conditions that were "changing by the hour." Cold temperatures were also going to make the day challenging.

"Be careful and watch out for each other," he said, cautioning the volunteers to "stick together" through the day."And may God bless you in your efforts today."

- Besides Green Lake Lutheran Ministries, the volunteer effort was sponsored by Faith Lutheran Church, Peace Lutheran Church, Our Lady of Lakes Catholic Church, United Way and Peterson Bus.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750