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John Aas

A jackpot of sandbag help for Hendrum family

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HENDRUM, Minn. -- The family of John and Dolores Aas, racing to add 3 feet of sandbags to the permanent dike that surrounds their house before the Wild Rice River rises another possible 4 feet by Thursday, got some unexpected help Tuesday.

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Eight employees of Shooting Star Casino-Hotel-Events Center down the road in Mahnomen, Minn., showed up in a van to give them a hand filling and placing 1,500 sandbags.

"If we have to move out of the house this year, it'll be the fifth time since 1997," said John Aas, who observed his 84th birthday Tuesday.

Last year, they spent five weeks in Dilworth, Minn., where their daughter, Laura Hopkins, and her family live. They also were forced from their home in 1997, 2001 and 2006.

The Wild Rice was at about 28 feet just north of Hendrum, right by the Aas farmstead, late Tuesday afternoon. The National Weather Service's latest outlook says it should reach major flood stage of 32 feet by Thursday.

Last year, the Wild Rice crested at 33.57 feet, the second-highest on record. The 1997 mark was 33.85 feet.

"We built up to the same level last year, and it came to within 3 or 4 inches of the top of the sandbags," son-in-law Ken Parke said. "We got lucky last year. In 1997, we didn't. That year, the power went, and they had water on the main floor.

"We usually have to do it ourselves, with just the family," he added. "It was wonderful to get the help."

Mahnomen is about 45 miles east of Hendrum -- by highway, not the river.

"Fargo-Moorhead gets all the attention," said Dave Snetsinger, casino shift manager and volunteer crew leader. "We figured we'd help out in a smaller community. Besides, the Wild Rice runs right past the casino hotel, so we're kind of connected."

After spending about four hours at the Aas farmstead, they returned to Hendrum, where they filled sandbags for another couple of hours. Some in the crew had to work the night shift at the casino. White Earth Band tribal leaders plan to help out in the area today, Snetsinger said.

Roads swamped at Ada, Minn.

The fast-moving surge of water is pushing its way from Ada, Minn., about 14 miles away, swamping roads and fields.

Ada, which sits between the Wild Rice and Marsh rivers, was nearly cut off all sides Monday.

Water ran over the top of Minnesota Highway 200, which runs east and west through town, two miles east and about a mile or two west of town Monday. It also blocked Norman County Road 20 south of town.

The only access to Ada, the Norman County seat with 1,460 residents, was to the north on County 20, which also had water running over the pavement.

"There was no detour. It was just closed," said Kevin Ruud, Norman County environmental officer, whose job duties also include county planner and emergency manager. "People found their own way around."

The Wild Rice hit 17.86 feet Saturday in Ada, dropped about a foot, then bounced back up into the high 17-foot range Sunday and Monday after ice jams plugged the channel near town.

The force of the water sent chucks of ice a foot or more thick and 10 to 15 feet width and length onto road embankments and onto Highway 200.

But by Tuesday, the water had receded to about 15 feet.

"It dropped as fast as it came up," Ruud said. "Now, we're just waiting to see what will happen to towns along the Red -- Perley, Hendrum and Halstad. They're dry as a bone right now. Hopefully, all this water gets past them before the Red arrives."

The Red River flows past about a mile west of Hendrum, a Norman County community of 285. The Wild Rice empties into it about four miles north of town.

In 2009, Hendrum was hit by flooding from both the Wild Rice and the Red at one time.

"It was basically one river last year," said Mike Smart, Hendrum police chief and emergency manager. "The last two floods, the Red was more of a threat to us than the Wild Rice. This year, so far, so good."

Looking ahead

The city of Hendrum is trying to get state funding to add another 3 feet to the permanent dike surrounding the town and, ultimately, to have it certified by the federal government, according to Smart. But as of Tuesday afternoon, he had received no word on its fate from St. Paul, where Gov. Tim Pawlenty was vetoing a long list of projects from around the state.

John Aas and his family are waiting, too, for a final outcome on the proposed Fargo-Moorhead diversion project that could be a decade away. Some estimates indicate a diversion could raise the Red River by about 10 inches downstream.

If that happens, they likely will have to build a ring dike to protect the house.

John and Dolores Aas lived for several years in Rugby, N.D., before retiring back to the farm in 1988. He said the house was not even threatened by flooding from the time the original part of the house was built in 1897 to 1950.

"There weren't any floods when I grew up," he said.

"In the 1960s and '70s, when I was growing up here, sandbagging was like a rarity," daughter Laura said. "The sad thing is it takes so long to go down."

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