The Carl Online

Tales from the Great Northfield Flood Part 2; Flood of Support by carlmagazine
October 9, 2010, 9:38 am
Filed under: Feature, Northfield | Tags: , , ,

By Teddy Gelderman

I rolled out of bed on Friday morning and clicked on my computer to check my email. There I read a universal call for volunteer sandbaggers to converge downtown at Bridge Square immediately. It was 9am and the river was still rising. As I am a senior, my first class isn’t until 4a, so I figured I might as well go check out the damage. When I hopped off my bike  twenty minutes later, I got my first glimpse of the inundated Northfield that we all came to know last weekend.

At first, I wasn’t sure about what I was supposed to do, or if they even needed volunteers. Then, as if on queue, someone jogged over to a crowd of us bystanders and directed us where to go. Water was creeping higher and higher and was now only inches from some windows along the waterfront sidewalk. I stepped down the two remaining visible steps onto what was normally a riverfront walkway, and was met with two feet of water, which meant that for the rest of the day my shoes and pants would be drenched. We formed the first of many sandbag brigade lines and quickly fortified what we could. By then it was 10:00 am and it seemed unlikely that the river would crest within the hour, as was previously predicted. However, the water was still climbing and would soon overcome Northfield’s first line of defense.

From then on, I followed the small splinter cells of sandbaggers up and down both sides of the river stacking, heaving, filling, tying, and hauling   sandbags for the next two hours. I took orders from whoever was giving them and the minutes clicked on as the river inched its way higher and higher up the walls.

I realized just after noon that I was late for my 4a, and rushed back to catch the tail end of class. Once class was out, I set out for the river again, filed myself back into another sandbag brigade line and was instantly passing bags down to the other volunteers.
And the day passed. Our original efforts were washed away or simply overwhelmed by the water, but by 6:00pm it seemed as though the worst was over. Our walls were holding and the river seemed content to rise no further. The volunteers were called off and most of us walked home: shovels scraping the asphalt behind us, dragged by sore, bruised arms and shoulders.

While the Flood of 2010 will be recorded as one of the most memorable in the city’s history, what remains most impressive is the response from Northfield’s own residents. Long before I arrived and long after I left, people of all ages were doing their part. Like a colony of ants, every individual worked with little to no central organization or direction. They just worked, and out of what should have been chaos, came order. Filling stations and line brigades seemed to materialize and organize on their own.

A voice would call out for more people to move sandbags, or that a wheelbarrow had a bad wheel, or that one station was getting low on sand, and before the voice had stopped echoing off the nearest building, extra volunteers would flock to fill line gaps, bring replacement parts, or find out when the next load of sand would arrive. Oles, Carls, and even Raiders worked side by side, joining together in numbers perhaps never seen before in Northfield. Classes and practices were cancelled to provide replacement workers for the volunteers. All of Northfield was put on hold and its citizens banded together to work for something bigger than the sum of their parts. All of us moved like tiny gears in a giant, living machine. It was truly inspiring.

And yes, there were apathetic bystanders, and even bow-hunting fishermen. But for every one gawker or opportunistic angler, there were at least 50 people, sandy, sweaty and tired, doing their damnedest to help.

Our town came together in a matter of hours to battle with the Cannon River, and while there were casualties—a moment of silence for Froggy’s—in the end, the day was ours. We have a city filled with generous, hard working, and self-sacrificing individuals and I have never been more proud to be a member of our community, or to live in Northfield.