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Gov. Walz activates Minnesota National Guard as Crookston residents battle rising waters

The Emergency Operations Center in Crookston opened around 10 a.m. on Saturday, April 23, and sandbagging operations started around noon. Since then, volunteers have been working to fill and pile sandbags. More volunteers are needed.

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Ben, left, and Matt Genereux, right, throw sandbags with their cousin Josh Knaack, center, at Trinity Lutheran Church near the flooding Red Lake River in Crookston Minnesota, Sunday, April 24, 2022.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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CROOKSTON, Minn. – As the Red Lake River continued to rise on Sunday, April 24, in Crookston, Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz declared a peacetime emergency and authorized the Minnesota National Guard to assist in flood operations, offering personnel, equipment and resources.

Polk County's sheriff and emergency manager requested National Guard assistance with emergency sandbagging, patrol of flood protection systems and potential evacuation operations, according to a release from the governor's office.

“When our neighbors are in trouble, we step up to lend a hand,” Walz said in a statement. “I am proud that the Minnesota National Guard has answered this call to serve. The support of the Guard will be critical to ensuring the safety of Minnesotans during this difficult time.”

National Guard at Crookston
The Minnesota National Guard was activated to Crookston on Sunday evening to help with sandbagging efforts there.
Submitted photo by Matthew Leiphon

Meanwhile, city employees and volunteers have worked around the clock to contain the flood.

The Emergency Operations Center in Crookston opened around 10 a.m. on Saturday and sandbagging operations started around noon. Since then, volunteers have been working to fill and pile sandbags. More volunteers are needed.

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“We’ve had a lot of volunteers show up but they’re in desperate need of some relief,” said Chief of Police Darin Selzler.

As of Sunday afternoon, the Red Lake River had already passed the major flood stage at 26.33 feet. The flood stage in Crookston is 15 feet, the moderate flood stage is 20 feet and anything above 23 feet is considered a major flood. Selzler said city protection goes to 31 feet.

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Volunteer help sandbag on South Main Street in Crookston on Sunday, April 24.
Ingrid Harbo / Grand Forks Herald

On Sunday afternoon, the weather service adjusted its peak crest for the Red Lake River by about half a foot to 28.5 feet. While slightly lower than the initial predicted crest, that would still top the city’s flood record, which was set in 1997 at 28.4 feet.

Crookston Minnesota city was in urgent need of sandbaggers on Sunday as “several city structures are in immediate peril,” according to a city post shared on Facebook.

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Sandbags are unloaded from a semi-trailer as dozens of volunteers build a dike along the flooding Red Lake River at the intersection of W. 6th St. and Pine Street in Crookston, Sunday, April 24, 2022.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

The main locations of concern on Sunday were near the Crookston Public Library under the East Roberts Street bridge and South Main Street near the Fire Department. On Sunday, the walls of sandbags near the library were being reinforced with clay, while volunteers continued to sandbag near the fire station and other low points in town.

By late morning on Sunday, water had spilled onto the South Main Street underpass, where volunteers waded through water to continue to build a wall of sandbags.

Phil Huck, Vickie Huck and their daughter Olivia Huck were on their way to help sandbag near the firehouse on Sunday morning. They live outside of town and on higher ground, but still thought it was important to help protect the town from the rising water.

Sandbagging Crookston Sunday
Volunteers fill sandbags in Crookston on Sunday morning, April 24.
Ingrid Harbo / Grand Forks Herald

“This is our community,” said Vickie Huck.

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“This is where our friends work, this is where our school is. This is important,” said Phil Huck.

Phil and Vickie Huck said the storm and flood were reminiscent of the flood in Fargo in 1997. They helped to sandbag then as well.

“My wife was tearing up in the bathroom as we were getting ready to go saying ‘I don’t know if we can do this again,’” said Phil Huck. “Here we are.”

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Volunteers lay sandbags around the Crookston Library along the Red Lake River near downtown Sunday, April 24, 2022.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Along with volunteers in Crookston filling sandbags, prefilled sandbags are being shipped in from Moorhead.

“Polk County Emergency Director Jody Beauchane was able to locate like 30,000 prefilled sandbags they’re willing to part with,” said Selzler.

Polk County crews brought two trucks with around 900 sandbags from Moorhead on Saturday. They brought more on Sunday.

The East Grand Forks Fire Department also planned to bus volunteers from East Grand Forks to Crookston to help with the flood fight.

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The Red Cross set up an emergency shelter on Sunday at the Crookston Sports Center on Fisher Avenue, where people affected by flooding can sleep and get three meals each day. Walmart in Crookston has donated water and snacks, and Happy Joe’s Pizza & Ice Cream has donated pizza.

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As of Sunday, all evacuation was voluntary, and Sandra Heggeness, Red Cross shelter supervisor, said there had already been a few check-ins so far. She said the Red Cross crew does not have any expectations about how many people will use the shelter or how long it will be available for those affected by flooding.

“We really don’t know. We’ll just have to see what happens,” said Heggeness.

Other places in eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota are also likely to see flooding in the coming days.

Sandbags are being filled at the City Street Shop at 319 3rd Ave. S. in Crookston. For more information, contact Crookston’s Emergency Operations Center at 218-281-4363 or 218-281-4383.

Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or iharbo@gfherald.com. Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
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