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Minot flood evacuees return to their childhood homes

Natasha (Sandberg) Christianson and Kristen (Gartner) Boger grew up in Kenmare and certainly enjoyed their summers in the town as girls. They’ve returned to their childhood homes this summer with children of their own now, for an indefinite period of time, driven from their homes by the Mouse River floodwaters in Minot.

7/06/11 (Wed)


Natasha (Sandberg) Christianson and Kristen (Gartner) Boger grew up in Kenmare and certainly enjoyed their summers in the town as girls.


They’ve returned to their childhood homes this summer with children of their own now, for an indefinite period of time, driven from their homes by the Mouse River floodwaters in Minot.


“We joke and say we’ll be here until Christmas, but it really might be Christmas,” Natasha said.


Natasha heard about the evacuation orders on Monday, June 20th, in text messages from friends at lunchtime. She called her husband Dave at West Central Inc., and he came home to join her. The couple listened to the afternoon press conference called by Minot mayor Curt Zimbelman.


“It was hard to understand that day,” said Natasha. “We didn’t think it would get to this point. The Corps of Engineers said, ‘We’re going to try to manage the flows.’”


The Christiansons live at 2309 4th Avenue SW, near the Jack Hoeven baseball diamonds and Perkett Elementary School. “We have a split level home and the elevation is 1563 feet between the floor joist and the main level,” said Natasha, “but we think this could be two or three feet deep on the main level of our house.”


The couple plugged their drains and packed up their basement items during the late May-early June evacuation order in Minot. “That was supposed to crest at 1556 feet and street level is 1555 feet,” Natasha said. “We sandbagged around our window wells.”


That time, the river crested around 1554 feet, and everyone in the Christiansons' neighborhood stayed dry.


When the new evacuation orders were issued on June 20th, the Christiansons got to work. “We went and bought suitcases,” Natasha said, then laughed. “We tried to find totes, but there were none available.”


The couple had immediate help from Natasha’s parents, Duane and Kayla Sandberg of Kenmare, along with Kayla’s brother Frank Smith, who was dealing with flooding issues on the Missouri River in Minot, Dave’s parents and two of his brothers, and other friends. Nine members of the Kenmare Fire Department also showed up just in time to help move the heavy furniture and appliances. “They had perfect timing!” said Natasha. “Mitch Duerre called Dave to see if he needed any help. We thought he was just coming, and then here comes the awesome sight of nine firefighters!”


“I know my back and legs were sure happy when they showed up,” Duane said about the Kenmare Fire Department. “You’ve been working all day and here you have the heavy stuff left, and there they were!”


The Christiansons removed their hot water heater, fireplace and furnace from their basement, but had to leave behind a piano. Natasha recalled the scene on their street as chaotic. “There were cars and trailers everywhere,” she said, “but the good thing about being from North Dakota is that people are courteous.”


She laughed again at the organization of their own household goods, with a 17 1/2 foot trailer borrowed from Andy Mau now loaded and parked at the Christianson farm, and several items stuffed into Brady Kjos’s garage in Kenmare. The rest is in front of her parents’ house, with a car trailer on loan from Jim Jorgenson packed with the basement items from the first evacuation and the family’s camper holding a variety of odds and ends.


She even managed to save her three tomato plants, growing in containers. “I figured they would just sit on the deck and float away,” she said, then grinned as she described the wind damage the plants suffered instead on the ride to Kenmare in the back of a pickup.


Kayla laughed about the parade of trailers in front of her house, including the Sandbergs’ own snowmobile trailer loaded with items from her brother’s home in Bismarck. “We have flood victims here, but we could have a heck of a rummage sale with their things!” she said.


Natasha and Laila arrived in Kenmare the evening of the 21st, a full day before the evacuation deadline. Dave is traveling between Kenmare and Berthold, where West Central relocated its inventory to the United Agronomy facility.


For Laila, the trip is similar to any of a hundred other visits she has made to her grandparents’ house. “She likes to boss Grandpa around,” Natasha said, laughing again. “He likes to do anything for her. And Grandma has lots of toys for her. I think she likes these toys better than what she has at home. When we do finally get home, we’ll have to totally unspoil our child!”


She has taken advantage of Kenmare’s opportunities for children at the library’s Storytime on Thursdays and the summer reading program, the swimming pool, and the parks, many of which have been closed in Minot. She also planned to enroll Laila in at least one summer vacation Bible school program. “There’s lots of family around and I have friends here in Kenmare who have little kids Laila can play with,” she said.


She believes Laila doesn’t understand too much about what is happening to their home in Minot, but her eyes filled with tears at the memory of one moment during the packing frenzy. “She came to me and said, ‘Mommy, are we going to lose our house?’” Natasha recalled.


“They left the crucifix on the wall in Laila’s room,” Kayla added. “Maybe that will help.”


Natasha talked about her summer stay in Kenmare, but her eyes strayed often to the television where coverage of events in Minot was broadcast. She shook her head. “I really should just shut it off,” she said, “but there’s good information you’re finding out about what’s going on.”


The Christiansons have lived in their Minot home for four years. “I never ever even thought we would have to deal with this,” she said. “In 1969, our area was covered, but they didn’t have that dike then, and there’s walking path built up on the dike now. When we bought the house, we were told we were on the 500-year flood plain.”


Natasha smiled again as she described her neighborhood, which includes a few other families and couples with Kenmare ties. The neighbors share bonfires and barbecues, and the older children walk to school together while kids Laila’s age get together with their mothers to play. “Seriously, this is the best group,” she said.


As difficult as it was for Natasha to watch the water’s progress on television, she was looking ahead to returning. “I think about the work we’ve done to our house and our yard,” she said. “Laila’s swing set sits out there. I really don’t want to see what it’s going to look like, but I want to get in there and get started cleaning.”


She already has her name on the list for one of the cleaning and restoration services in Minot. Until then, she’s focused on keeping a positive attitude. “What else can you do?” she asked. “We’re not alone. It’s thousands of people. If it stays in our basement, that would make me happy. I told my dad we’ll go back and probably have a beaver in our house, chewing up our place!”


Kristen, her husband Fred and their children Lille and Mason live in the same neighborhood as the Christiansons, in a ranch-style home at 24 19th Street NW. Like Natasha, she heard the evacuation order issued during the press conference held June 20th. “We knew it was coming, but we weren’t sure of the extent of it,” she said.


Like their neighbors, she and Fred packed up their basement the first time the floodwaters threatened in early June. This time, they loaded up the entire house and stored most of it in Fred’s brother’s shop. Her father, Arlen Gartner, showed up with a trailer, while her mother Elaine went to help her brother Chad Gartner and his family nearby. The Bogers also had assistance from Kristen’s brother-in-law, sister-in-law, niece, all of Fred’s family and friends from Garrison and Bismarck.


In the meantime, Fred’s son Michael, 20, helped his grandmother clear her belongings from the KOA campground she owns. “They’ve been fighting this longer than we have,” Kristen said. “They’ve been taking a boat every day to get from their house to the highway.”


As the Bogers finished emptying their home Tuesday night, they learned Fred’s father, living about four blocks away on 19th Street, would also have to be evacuated. “We spent Wednesday and Thursday clearing him out,” Kristen said. “People just came together. We worked so hard and so fast to get everything out.”


Fred’s father’s house may still be dry, but Kristen knows that is not the case for her home. “The pictures that I’ve seen of our neighborhood show water close to the tops of the windows,” she said. “I haven’t seen my house yet.”


The Bogers purchased their home last September. “When we went looking for a house, it was everything we wanted,” she said. Stories of fond memories from the former owners and the fact that longtime friends of Fred’s family lived next door only made the location seem more perfect.


Kristen has enjoyed the other parents and their children, and the Bogers were planning to join the fun of the summer outings and barbecues on the street. “I miss hearing from people,” she said. “I miss talking to my neighbors every day.”


She smiled and said she and Fred were going to host their own summer party this year. “We’ll just have a demolition party instead,” she said, with a laugh.


At three months old, Mason is too young to understand the situation, and Kristen thinks Lille, age 2, believes she’s on a vacation “at Grandma’s house.” Fred is staying with his niece in Minot during the week to continue working at Hess’s new offices on South Hill, but Kristen takes their children to the pool, park and library in Kenmare for diversions.


Kristen’s own diversion flashes back to her childhood days working the fireworks stand in front of her father’s grocery store, where she is sitting behind the cash register. “I did this before I started working for my parents in the store,” she said. “The past couple of days, marking fireworks and putting fireworks out for sale, has been a nice break from the TV and radio.”


Still, even as she laughs at the large quantity of brightly colored boxes on display, the conditions at her house never really leave her mind.


“It’s hard to believe, watching it,” she said. “It’s hard to even believe there’s that much water.”


She shook her head. “It’s just another chapter in our lives, and we’ll get through it. I have to stay strong for my kids. We’re just very fortunate. At least we have our family up here and a roof over our heads.”


She smiled one more time and admitted, “I’m sick of water.”