For the first time in a good number of weeks I strapped on my newly acquired wellies and headed out into the field. Every member of staff at All Hands was a volunteer first and it really puts the office work into perspective when you get the chance to get out there and get your hands dirty. I had spent my time in North Dakota processing, logging and filing work requests from some of the thousands of people who were affected by this flood but the reality of the impact the water had on the houses was a world away until I turned onto Central Avenue this morning.
Having come from an area recently ravaged by a tsunami I expected Minot to be in much better shape than Tohoku. I imagined the water gently rising in the streets, lapping against the windows and then gently receding again. Instead, house after house stood empty with dirty tide marks up at the 8 foot mark. Wooden decks had detached and crashed into neighbouring buildings. Gardens and neat green lawns had been swept away and replaced with mud. All along the roadside piles of debris stand waiting for collection, basically entire lives broken down and put out like trash.
The house we went to was scheduled for a FEMA inspection tomorrow. For this to happen the inspector must be able to measure each room and count the electrical sockets. The house was soaking wet and rapidly turning into a mushy, moldy mess. A group from a church 60 miles away had driven the 90 minutes to help out and along with a couple of local individuals we set about shoveling out the soggy books, photos and furniture. The house was stuffed full of stuff. Bursting at the seams. And everything we touched slipped out of our grasps and fell apart. It was dirty, frustrating work but it got done. Along with the owner’s brother and 10 year old niece we cleared 10 rooms of stinking goop and soggy possessions.
My new appreciation of the circumstances this community faces may not actaully help me much tomorrow back at the desk processing forms though. We still have limited numbers of volunteers and ever growing requests for assistance. In order to fairly assign a priority level to each applicant I might just have to try and forget my muddy day on Central Avenue.