Let the sandbagging begin: heavy rains saturate the area

Jake and Dave Hvistendahl Froggy Bottoms sandbag team
The soggy Froggy Bottoms boys, led by Jake and Dave Hvistendahl, are sandbagging today, as heavy rains overnight and throughout the morning hours have pushed the Cannon River over its banks along the Riverwalk in downtown Northfield.

See the album of 10 24 65 165 222 278 286 307 324 345 370 379 397 photos, the large slideshow, or this small slideshow:


  1. Kathie Galotti said:

    Anyone have any ark building skills? I can bring my two dogs!

    September 23, 2010
  2. Griff Wigley said:

    At 8pm, the Nfld News reported that the "Cannon River is within six inches of record flood stage of 22.2 feet, according to information released early Thursday evening by the National Weather Service."

    I guess I’d better get up early and take some photos.

    September 23, 2010
  3. Griff Wigley said:

    Tim Freeland has flooding photos and a couple videos from late afternoon yesterday in this post on the KYMN blog.

    Nfld News staffers have some photos from 4:30 pm yesterday here.

    September 24, 2010
  4. Griff Wigley said:

    Shit. Somewhere in my mad scramble to get photos before sunrise, my T-Mobile G1 smartphone fell out of its belt pouch. Probably happened while I was navigating the bushes on the Riverwalk to get to Froggy’s. It’s probably in Lake Bylesby by now. 🙁

    September 24, 2010
  5. Griff Wigley said:

    Sandbagging volunteers are needed. Show up at 9 am at Bridge Square.

    September 24, 2010
  6. Griff Wigley said:

    The Cannon River is level with Lyman Lakes. No waterflow at all at the dam, which is not even visible.

    I’ve added 41 more photos to the album.

    September 24, 2010
  7. Tracy Davis said:

    (Is your phone really lost?)

    September 24, 2010
  8. Tracy Davis said:

    The East Side neighborhood (NESNA) blog has a few pics of the aftermath, including some students making the proverbial lemonade.

    September 24, 2010
  9. Paul Zorn said:



    is information about water height, etc. Most recently, the depth at Welch was about 13.5 feet. It was less than 5 feet 48 hours ago.

    Here’s an interesting factoid: The latest flow value at Welch (17,500 cubic ft per second) is over 8 times the previous record for this date.

    September 24, 2010
  10. Tracy Davis said:

    Northfield News website is extremely slow to load, with timeout errors. Server load must be heavy.

    Just heard via Twitter: Due to flood, RESIDENTS of Wilson, Prentice, Allen, and Geffert Houses must evacuate ASAP. Residents refer to e-mail.

    September 24, 2010
  11. Griff Wigley said:

    The water has topped the sandbags at Froggy Bottoms… 3 ft of water in the pub. After a furious fight at Carlson Capital Management, the water won there, too. Volunteers now desperately moving all equipment upstairs. Photos coming soon.

    All bridges in downtown Northfield now closed.

    September 24, 2010
  12. Tracy Davis said:

    Northfield Historical Society needs help moving artifacts out of the basement ASAP. Please head that way if available.

    September 24, 2010
  13. Tracy Davis said:

    Did you see local heroes Patrick and Felicity Enders in the Nfld News photo?

    (Article here.)

    September 24, 2010
  14. Was down there for a bit. A safety worker helpfully informed us that we should probably not be standing on the edge of the bridge square bridge, because there’s a large electrical service down there which is completely submerged and could explode. He made it quite clear that he was not ordering us to leave, mind you, and that life is all about choices.

    Everyone I know of left, though.

    I got a bunch of pictures and some video, quality unknown, will try to get them off the camera later.

    September 24, 2010
  15. Tracy Davis said:

    I’ve been using LoGroNfld on Twitter to aggregate information regarding the weather, road closings, requests for assistance, and other info.

    It surprised me how difficult it’s been to get accurate and timely information from City, county, and regional officials and organizations. It may be pointing out some gaps between actual “emergency alerts” via CodeRed, and crisis-but-not-quite-emergency situations like the flooding. I may post about that in more detail later, but I’d be interested to know what others experienced in that regards.

    September 24, 2010
  16. Griff Wigley said:

    Tracy, those tweets have been great. Wish I had a phone today to get them. 😉

    Let’s wait a day or two before we launch the post-mortem.

    Peter, thanks for posting the link to your photos. As soon as I finish mine, I’ll take a look at yours.

    September 24, 2010
  17. Paul Zorn said:

    Great photos, Griff.

    A striking thing about the people depicted: a whole lot of are smiling, laughing, enjoying themselves. Shared adversity beats the hell out of the individual kind.

    September 24, 2010
  18. Griff Wigley said:

    Thx, Paul. Yeah, I noticed that, too. There was often a carnival feel to the day. I guess when lives aren’t at stake, there’s no reason to not be having fun when you’re out there helping.

    Most of the affected property owners along the river, however, were not so chipper.

    September 25, 2010
  19. Griff Wigley said:

    All of Bridge Square is off-limits this morning, staffed by the National Guard. No one seemed to know if the river had crested over night.

    They let me in for a few minutes to take some photos. (“I’m a blogger!”) I’ll have those posted shortly. The river is considerably up from 7 pm last night.

    September 25, 2010
  20. Griff Wigley said:

    FYI, there are no Hwy 19 detour signs posted. So if you’re coming from the south on Hwy 3 and want to head east on Hwy 19, you have to go through town, eg, Woodley to Division.

    September 25, 2010
  21. Ross Currier said:

    Paul –

    I was involved with 5 different “sand-bagging events” during the day. There were all very similar. A few people would be standing around looking at the rising water. Somebody, generally related to the specific property, would describe “the plan”. A pick-up truck, or two, with sand bags would arrive. Suddenly the few people would become many people.

    Everyone seemed to have a great attitudes. Lot’s of smiles, with a few grim jokes. A wide variety of work clothes from rubber boots to sandals. Inter-generational (or whatever the official phrase is for such groups) work groups finding a rhythm.

    At one event, suddenly dozens of Northfield High School students showed up. The football team tossed the sacks to each other like they were going through a light workout. They laughed and cheered each other and the cheered up the rest of us.

    At another event, suddenly dozens of Oles showed up. I wish I got a nickle for every Olaf sweatshirt they bought. They’d come down off the hill to help out. They were in a hurry though, keep those bags moving, ’cause they had classes in a little while.

    At an afternoon event, it was the Carls. They might not have moved quite as quickly but were very determined to efficiently organize the “bucket brigade”. Once again, they had a busy schedule, there was the big afternoon convo, but the bags moved quickly into place and the task was completed with time to spare.

    At each event, there was seemingly little official structure or organization. The bags would arrive, the workers would appear, the dike would be built or enhanced, and the crowd would disperse, with the folks then walking the river in search of someone else who needed help.

    Was it a short-term aberration or the underlying, but sometimes forgotten, characteristic? Cows, colleges and collaboration.

    September 25, 2010
  22. Griff Wigley said:

    I just returned from a photo shoot at Carlson Capital Management’s building at 11 Bridge Square. Hope to have more photos posted within the hour.

    The river appears to have gone down an inch or so since 6 am.

    September 25, 2010
  23. Griff Wigley said:

    I’ve posted 17 new photos taken 9-9:30 am at Carlson Capital Management’s building at 11 Bridge Square. Photos from inside and from the deck overlooking the river.

    It includes one photo of Riverwalk from outside their building that was, um, tricky to take. No, I didn’t lean out a window.

    September 25, 2010
  24. Griff Wigley said:

    After A) listening to the KYMN interview with David Hvistendahl; B) talking to some of the affected downtown building owners; and C) noting Betsey’s comment about the City’s web site, it’s clear there needs to be a post-mortem about how officials prepared for and handled this ‘event.’

    We’ll probably launch that blog post Monday or Tuesday, assuming the crisis has passed by then.

    September 25, 2010
  25. Griff Wigley said:

    Will there be a second crest today/tonight?

    I got this email at 2:21 PM from the NWS:

    Flood Warning at ‘Northfield’, until 2:00pm, Tue Sep 28 2010





    September 25, 2010
  26. Dan Bergeson said:

    A post-mortem is definitely needed. I listened to the Jeff Johnson – Dave Hvistendahl interview also and was truly surprised to learn that there is no advance plan/prep for a flood event of any magnitude, large or small. Yesterday, I participated in a similar number of “sandbagging events” as Ross named them and had the same experience. Lots of willing hands and bodies, but no clear direction or sense of organization. It was a case of city staff and volunteers wingin’ it.

    Absolutely no one seemed to know how to properly stack sandbags, many sandbags were too heavy to handle quickly and efficiently, and there was no sense that anyone knew where and when the next round of bags should be put in place.

    We need to compile good notes about where and how the bags should be placed next time (there will be one) and we need to have some training in this whole process in advance. Seems like an exercise we should go through in Feb/March each year, just before spring runoff.

    I know this one was out of season and happened very quickly, but in hindsight, the sandbagging effort started too late.

    September 25, 2010
  27. Tracy Davis said:

    Griff, I’ve seen the same information from the national weather service and (I believe) somewhere else as well, that there may be ‘second crest’ that will affect the Cannon.

    I was trying to tune in to KYMN for info (and, I’d hoped, broadcast or live stream from the 6:00p briefing in the Council chambers) but they appear to be off the air.

    The Northfield News site makes it impossible to find the latest updates.

    The City has posted a few alerts on its home page (I’d made Deb Little aware yesterday that the Alerts RSS feed wasn’t working; thank God she arranged for that to be fixed before they started using it for updates.) However, the alerts are sketchy and far between.

    September 25, 2010
  28. Tracy Davis said:

    Northfield.org has done the best job of putting all relevant information in one place. They made a “sticky” post on their home page and are timestamping updates.

    However, they didn’t note the LoGro Twitter account (I’ve been working quite diligently to aggregate and retweet all relevant info), and that account has more than twice the followers of the Northfield.org Twitter. In situations like this all organizations need to work together to disseminate information to the citizens, without any regard for stupid turf wars or past grudges.

    September 25, 2010
  29. Phil Poyner said:

    Maybe a corps of volunteers that are willing to learn how to lead a sandbag brigade? There does seem to be a fair amount of information out there on sandbagging, such as this: http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/ageng/safety/ae626.pdf

    I’m sure there’s much more information out there.

    September 25, 2010
  30. Jane McWilliams said:

    There’s a good report on the News’ site about the 6:00 p.m. briefing at city hall tonight.

    September 25, 2010
  31. Griff Wigley said:

    Thanks, Jane. The Nfld News keeps using the same story page URL but piling new stuff at the top. And today, they’re even re-titling the headline without warning/explanation:

    Cannon stubbornly continues to rise in Northfield

    The old headline from earlier today:

    “Northfield City Council tours the damage”

    September 25, 2010
  32. Ah,I tried to give a link but was unsuccessful. Channel 9 (Fox) had a story interviewing Jake, David Hv. and Mayor Mary. Channel 4 also had a story tonight on the flooding of Laird Field.

    September 25, 2010
  33. Griff Wigley said:

    As the Senior VP of Photography for LoGroNo, I’ll be doing an aerial flyover of the flooded area this afternoon. Faribault Airport departure: 1 pm. Be sure to wave when we buzz downtown.

    September 26, 2010
  34. David Koenig said:

    Guys, I’m going to share a different experience and perspective.

    The effort of the volunteers and volunteer fire department was great. I worked on both the Basil’s side and Archer House side of the river all day Friday. The guys from the Fire Department were incredibly responsive with our requests for sand, bags, ties, water, whatever.

    The people volunteering at these sites self-organized and did an incredible job putting all of the sandbags you see from the bottom of the parking lot behind the old Community National building to the 2nd Street Bridge. There are thousands of bags they filled. When the bags were too heavy, the call came down the line. We went from 5 shovels full to 3 as they day wore on. In short, we worked well together.

    Sure, we waited every now and then for bags and sand, but partly that was because the volunteers were so incredibly efficient at the process once the sand arrived.

    As for planning, I spoke with Deputy Chief Walerius (sp?) on Thursday morning offering to assemble some volunteer teams in case they needed sandbagging. At that time, the best information they had was that the river would not exceed its peak. He was paying attention to storms coming in and flows from the Straight River. In short, they were watching things. When they saw the need, the call went out, and volunteers came in by the hundreds.

    Someone surely planned something, otherwise we would never have had so many sandbags available to us.

    Kudos to the truck drivers who crossed ‘closed’ bridges with heavy loads of sand and delivered them exactly where we needed them.

    As an opportunity for improvement, I think we might build some lists of neighborhood and service group “response teams”. That’s easy to organize via email lists and phone trees. We might want to define organizing spots in advance so that people know where to meet to be distributed. Still, even if such was not pre-arranged in this case, the call went out and people responded.

    I’ll freely admit that my only exposure was to these two spots where we worked. Perhaps elsewhere it was more chaotic. I’m sure that those whose buildings have been damaged wish the call would have gone out sooner. But, let’s be thankful for the generally amazing job the volunteer firefighters and volunteers did in working together downtown.

    September 26, 2010
  35. Phil Poyner said:

    David, the reason that after-action reviews are done after operations like this is to determine not only those things that didn’t work well, but also those things that did. Hopefully the things that you saw that did work well are captured and become part of (or continue to be part of) institutional memory. I also hope that some of your ideas for improvement are recognized; I particularly liked the response team and assembly point ideas. I’d also wonder if there are some skill sets they could have used at the Emergency Operation Center if someone were to have volunteered their services. My experience with EOCs is that it’s best if the EOC reaches out for people rather than have bunches of volunteers show up at the EOC itself and potentially add chaos exactly where you least want it.

    And I agree completely with your last sentence.

    September 26, 2010
  36. David Koenig said:

    Agreed, Phil. Good risk management is preparation and revision to plans upon realization of a risk and a helpful review.

    I just don’t want there to be disproportionate complaining. I’m see far worse in terms of responses and think that the town did a great job overcoming any weaknesses in pre-planning to which I was exposed.

    One challenge the town will always face is that city staff, council members and even fire/police teams change over time. Thus the benefit of naming pre-arranged meeting places and calling (or tweeting) trees and testing them with regularity, at least once each year.

    September 26, 2010
  37. Felicity Enders said:

    I agree; in the absence of much experience in our volunteer corps, the sandbagging went quite well. That being said, I do have a couple of specific comments:

    1. We need two roving sandbag setups on each side of the river, moving as close as possible to the next location. Each setup should have 1 extension ladder, 3-4 cut orange cones, 2 tables, shovels, and sand/bags/ties that continue to arrive without delay.

    2. If there’s any choice, the city should avoid purchasing the yellow (BIG) sandbags. Also, sandbags with ties attached are much preferred.

    3. Whenever possible, shift volunteers to Olaf side of river. There were usually plenty of people passing by on Carleton side, but the Olaf side was trickier.

    4. Start early! The measures above would have helped quite a lot, as there was a fair amount of standing around and waiting (for sand/bags/ties) and then trickiness moving bags to correct location without always having sufficient people. But even so, the effort obviously started too late given the eventual river height.

    1 & 3 are especially necessary in case the bridges close to pedestrians.

    It seemed like emails worked well to bring out the students, which really saved things at the end of the day. The prevalence of back problems is much lower in the student population!

    September 26, 2010
  38. Phil Poyner said:

    David, I agree in that I’d hate to see the takeaway message from all this be that “there were some problems”, particularly when there were many things that went well.

    When I was in the military they taught both us leadership and followership. In order to maximize the chances of mission success it was considered optimal to have both competent leaders with vision and enthusiastic followers. It seems to me that this situation has proven that Northfield is not lacking for enthusiastic followers! That tells me that, regardless of what may come down the pike, Northfield (as a community) already has a big part of what it needs to deal with adversity. Back when I was a younger man I read some of M Scott Peck’s books, particularly those on civility and community building. Ross’s description in 28.1.1 of things he saw (and yours) leads me to believe that Dr Peck could have used Northfield as a case study in how a community will effectively pull together in times of crisis. I hope THAT, and those organizational processes that worked best, end up being the takeaway message…with the caveat that some things could have gone better and that the lessons learned will be incorporated into future plans.

    If the city’s Emergency Operations “process owner” (I know in many places it’s the Fire Chief) finds merit in your suggestions, then annual tests of the procedures sounds like a good idea. Perhaps they could be done the same week as the annual Severe Weather Awareness Week.

    September 26, 2010
  39. Tracy Davis said:

    Very specific and helpful, Felicity. I’ll try to ensure that this feedback gets to the right people, who may not see it on LoGro.

    I’d like to echo what others have said, which is that the community as a whole did a fabulous job of responding to this crisis. I’d like to review the process afterwards so that we can improve the communication and mobilization, and ensure that Northfield has a strategy in place that will transcend changes in leadership or staff, but other than a few minor points, I’m not complaining.

    September 26, 2010
  40. Kathie Galotti said:

    I agree with what’s been said–the community response to the crisis was amazing. I was so proud to see so many Carleton students and faculty down near the Archer House Fri afternoon–and it was kind of a festive community atmosphere. That said, it would be good to get a little more organization of volunteers for next time.

    September 26, 2010
  41. Doug Peterson said:

    Grif and Locally Grown Gang–

    I was out of town during the flood but REALLY APPRECIATED THE PICTURES although it was hard to look at the devastation. The night pictures were especially interesting as I would believe many people were trying to get rest for the coming day’s work and would not have seen the situation at that time period; Same for the pictures from the airplane for the overall picture. I was impressed with the coverage and thankful it was captured on so many pictures for others to view. I hope each volunteer finds a personal account in one or more pictures to document that effort. Thanks to all.

    September 28, 2010
  42. Griff Wigley said:

    You’re welcome, Doug. Thanks for your kind comments.

    FYI, Tracy spent many hours tweeting misc updates throughout the weekend while Ross was actually doing real work: sandbagging!

    September 29, 2010

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