Academic journal article Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin

It Takes a Village to Start the School Year: A Community Rallies after a Natural Disaster

Academic journal article Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin

It Takes a Village to Start the School Year: A Community Rallies after a Natural Disaster

Article excerpt

Flooding in Minot, North Dakota, destroyed schools, businesses, and more than 4000 houses during the summer of 2011. The author explains how the community cooperated to relocate seven school settings quickly so school could begin. Many schools were displaced for 1-2 years, and the author describes the ongoing challenges of dislocation and unexpected surprises and lessons that emerged from these relocations.


After a wet and snowy winter, citizens of Minot, North Dakota, expected spring runoff. Few, however, expected a major flood that devastated more than 4,100 houses in the community of 41,000. During much of spring, the city built up levees along the Souris River, which runs through Minot, but the mayor ordered evacuations for 11,000 people in early June when the river was predicted to crest near the tops of the levees. Homeowners, businesses, and schools removed belongings from their threatened buildings but then breathed a deep sigh of relief when the levees held. Two weeks later, the mayor informed the community that, because of a significant rainfall in the upstream watershed, the city was threatened a second time and that the river would reach levels never before seen in Minot. Citizens had approximately 40 hours to remove belongings from properties. Business and school personnel and a few homeowners built dikes around their properties in hopes of protecting them.

Water began spilling over the levees on June 22, 2011, and the river crested 4 days later, flooding many building to the rooftops. In addition, the volume of water was so large that the water did not recede immediately, and most people had to wait between 2 and 4 weeks to get access to their properties.

When the water receded, the damage became clear. Approximately 4,100 homes were uninhabitable, and most families needed to strip the houses down to the framing in the basement and first floor. Some houses were condemned because of structural damage, and the flow through the middle school was so strong that interior cinder block walls collapsed. Minot is a rural community already challenged by a housing shortage due to oil drilling in the western portion of the state. The 11,000 evacuees lived with friends, families, and strangers and in hotels and shelters. Temporary housing arrived in September and October from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), an agency of the U.S. government designed to provide large-scale disaster relief. In addition, houses in the small towns up and downstream suffered similar flooding.

Damage to schools in the city was extensive. The Minot Catholic schools had an elementary school building in the flood zone, and the community rallied to build a dike and make sandbags, but the effort failed. In the Minot public schools, six buildings were damaged beyond use, including Lincoln and Longfellow elementary schools; Erik Ramstad Middle School; the ninth and tenth grade alternative high school, called Central Campus Plus; the Adult Learning Center; and Head Start, a preschool for children from low-income families. A dike around Perkett Elementary School successfully protected the building in general, but repairs were needed. These flooded schools had previously served almost 1,300 students. The good news for school personnel was that surrounding towns did not have schools in flooded areas.

School was scheduled to start in 6 weeks. How the community collaborated to get the schools up and running is an instructive and inspiring tale that offers lessons for communities challenged by natural disasters. It really does take a village to start the school year when so much has been damaged!


In spite of detailed instructions on planning for many natural disasters (Minnesota Department of Education, 2005; Zantal-Wiener & Horwood, 2010), a disconnect often occurs between the perceptions of risk by community members and by risk managers, because few people believe disasters will strike their communities (Gordon, MatarritaCascante, Stedman, & LulofF, 20 10). …

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