Problems Remain After North Dakota’s Knife River Flood

By LAUREN DONOVAN, Bismarck Tribune | December 1, 2014

The unusual August flood of the Knife River near tiny, unincorporated Marshall quickly receded, but the dirty water of the disaster keeps circling the drain.

While the waters have retreated, the small-scale disaster is far from over for Russ and L’Nette Stein, who have a cattle and crop operation deep in the heart of Dunn County, where the winding river jumped its banks after a 10-inch local rainfall.

Lutheran Social Services Disaster Response came up $20,000 short of a modest $60,000 in requests from the 14 families affected and still aims to make up the shortfall even as winter draws in, said Shirley Dykshoorn, director of the agency.

For the Stein family – the couple and their two daughters – the disaster that started late that night in August was like a stone dropped in the river: The ripples are still reaching the bank.

This time of year, they count on a little extra income from renting a hunting shack to bird hunters, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

Russ Stein said the flood killed a lot of birds and the hail that followed the flood took the rest of the birds, along with one of the nicest spring wheat acreages Stein said he ever hoped to see.

He didn’t get to harvest that hailed-out wheat, or flood-damaged corn, or feed his cows the hay stores that basically turned into soggy compost from the water. He called his hunters and told them not to come out this year.

And that’s just outside.

The family’s home is livable, but barely. The Steins lived in their calving barn right after the flood, spending days at the house, pumping 7 feet of floodwater from the basement, scraping mud and tearing sheet rock and rooms apart.

They’ve had to permanently abandon the basement, where their daughters had bedrooms, a hangout room and where extra possessions were stored.

The walls are cracking down there, and they know their 50-year-old house, built by Russ Stein’s folks within sight of the Knife River, will eventually have to be moved or replaced. It will always seep water now.

L’Nette Stein said she feels her girls’ displacement the most. When McKinzee Stein comes home from college, the girls stay in the hunting house.

“It’s just knowing when they’re here, she can’t come home home,” L’Nette Stein said. “I know we have to accept this and move on and start over.”

She said it’s difficult when people tell them they’re lucky to at least have cattle to sell into a record-high market, but that’s a small piece of what recovery will take.

Russ Stein said he tries to describe so much loss this way: “It’s like you worked all year for a paycheck, and someone ripped it up or burned it right in front of you.”

Even their country church, a place of refuge, was damaged in the floodwaters. But one week, members threw caution to the wind and had coffee and baked goods after service like they always have, despite mold growing in the fellowship basement. It was good to talk among neighbors who have the flood in common and most of fall’s hard work behind them, they said.

Two neighbors, Clara and Ingvald Paulson, are still displaced, living in a rental unit in Taylor. They took refuge on the roof of their house when the water started coming into the farm house.

The couple, who were rescued by boat, says they’re adjusting to town life, all right, but Ingvald Paulson still goes to the farm to clean the flood damage and make repairs.

They didn’t have insurance and said any assistance they get will go toward fixing fences or toward expenses to live in town.

Ingvald Paulson has always lived on the farm close to the river.

“Taylor isn’t much of a city, so the traffic isn’t too bad,” he says, tongue in cheek. The town’s population is 157.

His wife, who turns 83 this month, said she’s grateful for all the help so far.

“We’re trying to make a comfortable home here for our family and friends,” she said.

They don’t know whether they’ll ever live on the farm again.

“We’re waiting to see how things dry out,” Ingvald Paulson said.

Dykshoorn said she’s still hoping to provide assistance to the flood families, after dispersing the initial $40,000 that was raised through her agency and donations.

“They have such a strong sense of community out there. It’s been great working with all of them,” she said.

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