Over the weekend of March 28-29, 2009, an American Humane Association Red Star Animal Emergency Services team deployed to North Dakota to potentially help with the care and sheltering of animals evacuated from the Red River flooding in the Fargo area. We helped with sandbagging and worked to set up an overflow shelter in Valley City; fortunately, levees held, and the additional shelter was not needed.
American Humane Association’s Animal Emergency Services program manager, Tracy Reis, is filing reports from the scene.
The Red Star team was a tired crew when we returned to our temporary homes last night. The blizzard was still in full force and we wondered how the levees in Fargo would fare overnight. The good news is that although it was a long night, all seemed well this morning.
We were all prepared to resume sandbagging detail this morning, but due to the weather even that had been discontinued because the roads had been shut down for everything but "essential services."
By midday it seemed that any immediate threat had passed. The roads reopened and the decision was made with our hosts, the North Dakota Animal Health Board, that the Red Star team could demobilize and head for home.
We'll all be on flights home tomorrow knowing that we were the "safety net" for hundreds of animals that might have gone homeless if the worst had happened. The thought of homes flooded with freezing water and ice, and people and animals fleeing west along I96 to escape the destruction with no place to go, is what brought us here to help. The brave families of the Red River Valley have beaten the river at this point. Thankfully, the worst seems to be behind them for the moment. However, a new high crest is possible sometime in April when all of this snow melts.
And if they need us, the Red Star team will be, thanks to our staff, brave volunteers, donors and friends, watching and waiting for the invitation to respond again.
All 12 members of the Red Star team started work this morning at the Valley City Emergency Animal Shelter. I think I mentioned yesterday that we are the "backstop" for Fargo in case the levees fail in the next couple of days -- evacuees could potentially bring in hundreds of animals to us if the worst happens. We are ready for them if and when they arrive. In the meantime, we put ourselves to work filling sandbags along with the local folks. It was hard work and we must have filled at least 3,000 sandbags, three scoops at a time! Then we stacked them, 40 to a pallet, for transport. We reduced a mountain of sand to walls of sandbags today, and now those walls of sandbags are on flatbed semi trucks headed for Fargo where the shoring up of the levees continues.
The community folks were so grateful for the extra hands in this effort. Several of them were surprised that we pitched in -- they knew we were here for a purpose, that we came for the animals -- and they were genuinely appreciative of that. But they were truly amazed and grateful that while we waited for the animals, we also pitched in to do the same hard work that they have been doing for endless days now. For our part, we were just happy to help out in any way we could while we waited for the river to recede. The effort these citizens have put forth to save their community is just astounding. They are true everyday heroes.
I also have to give kudos to the Minnesota Veterinary Reserve Corps team that is manning the shelter here with us. With two veterinarians and two vet technicians on board, we know we have a solid crew for the animals, no matter what happens.
It’s been a hot and cold day. We work up a sweat and take off layers to cool off, and then the cold gets to us and we put clothes back on. We had army “meals ready to eat” (MREs) for lunch and everyone is looking forward to a hot meal this evening. I’m writing this at about 4:00 p.m. local time, and we have a fierce blizzard going on outside. Luckily, our hotel is only a couple of minutes away, and the big semi trucks hauling our sandbags away are keeping the road clear. We received an update from Fargo a couple of minutes ago, and they are reporting that they have 16 inches of new snow on the ground now and high winds. The river is at 39 feet -- let’s hope all remains well through the night.
Flights out for the Red Star team began this morning. By early afternoon we had half of our team on the ground in Valley City with the remainder coming in tonight. In all we will have a team of 12 responders here to set up and to man an emergency animal shelter. We are setting up the shelter in the Winter Show Building -- which we are told is literally the largest Quonset hut building in the world -- and I believe it! This building is enormous and will serve us well for a shelter. You can only imagine what it looks like -- I’ll try to post pictures soon. We have a lot of work to do to get it ready, though, to work as an animal shelter. With additional equipment and food that will be delivered today from the PetSmart Charities Rescue Waggin’® we should have capacity for 450 animals if needed.
By now we know that the Red River crested short of the levee tops -- and that is wonderful news. But we are also being told that the water is expected to sit without going down for as long as five days, putting strain on the temporary levees the folks of Fargo have labored so hard to build. We all pray that the levees will hold, but more dangerous winter weather is predicted for tomorrow with additional snow and high winds. The forecast is for eight to ten inches of new snow and up to 25-mile-per-hour winds. That will be hard on the levees as well as the people.
At the end of today (Sunday) we do not yet have any animals at the shelter we’re setting up, but we will be busy tomorrow. This same location where we are working is also a main sandbagging facility for the effort in Fargo. The Red Star team will jump in tomorrow to assist with filling sandbags; we will help in any way that we can. Is it cold here? You bet -- bone-chilling cold. Everyone runs around with red cheeks and you don’t take your gloves off for long before your hands are in pain and numb.
My boss, vice president of the Animal Welfare Division Debrah Schnackenberg, called me this morning to let me know that Dr. Keller from the State Veterinarian’s Office in Bismarck called her this morning to request that American Humane Association send in an emergency sheltering team. While Debrah and the North Dakota Animal Health Board arranged the paperwork that will officially admit us into North Dakota, I headed into the office to get the travel arrangements, scheduling, assignments and the hundred other details going to pull the trigger on getting the Red Star team out to Fargo.
We have been asked to set up an emergency animal shelter in Valley City, N.D., which is on I96 -- the westward evacuation route out of Fargo. The Red River was expected to crest last night or early today; if it flows over the temporary levees our Valley City shelter will be the first shelter outside of Fargo available to people in need of a safe haven for their beloved pets. We all hope that the river stops short of overflow, but if it doesn’t we will be here ready to support the families and the pets of the Red River area.
The snow is letting up here in Denver but we were still under a blizzard warning until early this morning. American Humane Association’s headquarters remain closed for the storm but the Animal Emergency Services team has been hard at work from our homes. We have put a Red Star emergency sheltering team on standby status and we have continued to talk with the authorities in North Dakota about their needs. American Humane, along with our National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition (NARSC) partners, has begun regular daily conference calls with management at both the state and federal levels. Together we are all keeping updated on the situation and needs in the Fargo area. Meanwhile, we have Red Star volunteer responders from all over the country sitting with their winter clothes and boots at the ready and bags packed to get on a plane for Fargo at a moment’s notice. All of these folks are amazing people, willing to set aside the comforts of their own families, warm homes and jobs to go to freezing, water-logged Fargo to help in whatever way they can. I cannot say how grateful I am for all of them.
We’ve been watching the Red River situation around the Fargo, N.D., area and I’ve put in calls to Emergency Management and local humane societies in both North Dakota and in Minnesota to see if they need American Humane’s assistance. Meanwhile, here in Denver we are getting hit with a blizzard, and American Humane Association’s offices are closed. We are all working from home today. Snow is blowing sideways here south of Denver and getting into the office today would just be plain dangerous. These are the times when the true value of all this wonderful technology we use becomes apparent -- it allows us to avoid a local emergency in order to focus on the larger one happening in North Dakota and Minnesota.