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Picking up the pieces: Thankful for only material losses, Dunn Co. residents help each other clean up, move forward

One of Gee and Jamie Knopik’s tractors is pulled out of a river that feeds into the Knife River on Sunday. The Knopiks’ horse barn was destroyed and everything in it displaced by floods from torrential rains Friday night. (Submitted Photo by Gee Knopik)1 / 4
The flooded Knife River is shown in this picture from Saturday morning. Overflowing water damaged at least 16 farmsteads near 19th Street Southwest in Taylor, N.D. (Submitted Photo by Gee Knopik)2 / 4
A corn field near the Stein farm north of Taylor, N.D., was still flooded Monday afternoon. (Press Photo by Katherine Lymn)3 / 4
Panels used in Gee and Jamie Knopik’s cattle operation near Halliday, N.D., sat in a pile Sunday after high waters from the flooding Knife River displaced them Friday night. (Submitted Photo by Gee Knopik) 4 / 4

MANNING -- The worst flooding in years had Dunn County residents salvaging belongings and pumping out basements Monday.

Torrential rains Friday night caused flooding into Saturday, severely damaging at least 16 farmsteads and tearing up enough roads and bridges that the county is looking at FEMA assistance.

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Dunn County Emergency Manager Denise Brew sent a proposed emergency declaration Sunday to county commissioners, who she expects will approve it at their regularly scheduled Wednesday meeting. Then the state would come assess the damage and that could lead to assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which requires public infrastructure damage of more than $1 million to give support.

"I'm pretty certain that we'll hit that threshold," Brew said.

Brew said she's been trying to finalize a list of damaged roads, but it's hard to keep up.

"Every time I decide to type it up, the phone rings again and I write another one down," she said.

She's informing law enforcement and ambulance services of what homes are inaccessible because, for some, "if they needed an ambulance right now, we would just call a helicopter," she said.

Farms and residences along Taylor's 19th Street Southwest, along the Knife River, got hit the worst.

Brew kept a map of impacted properties.

"One, two, three, four, five, seven, eight, 10, 12," she counted. "At least, I'm just guessing ... 16 farmsteads along that road, and there's possibly more."

'A lot of things will be lost'

While those who live on the river are used to spring floods, this was something else.

"My dad's 80 years old and he's dealt with the spring floods his whole life," said DeAnn Paulson, daughter of Inky and Clara, whose 19th Street Southwest home severely flooded. "But this is nothing he's experienced."

Inky and Clara checked the house and went to sleep Friday night. Everything seemed fine. But that changed quickly around 7 a.m. Saturday.

Clara Paulson went down to the basement and "at that point in time when she was down there, a window popped," DeAnn said, "and water just gushed in."

Within a half-hour, the whole basement was full of water. Soon after, the water was up to the top of Clara's rubber boots on the main floor. The electricity was still on -- they could tell by the oven clock.

"That's when they kind of panicked a little bit," DeAnn said. "They looked outside and the deck was starting to rise and they thought they had to get out because if that deck went, there was no way for them to get out of the house."

Inky Paulson rigged up a way out with chairs on the dining room table, and the couple got on the roof. From there, the Dunn County game warden got them by boat at about 9 a.m.

"Basically, they got up there with a little suitcase with a few treasures in it and my mom's purse," DeAnn said, "and they sat there."

Monday, DeAnn was headed back to the house to pack up what could be salvaged.

"A lot of things will be lost," she said. "... All the clothing, everything will have to be washed. A lot of the furniture will probably be lost, and, will it be livable again? Unknown. I would say, it's a good possibility it won't be. But dad will probably do whatever he can to try to get back out there again."

Riding out the horses

The three horses were in water up to their necks.

Kaylee and McKinzee Stein, at their family's farm on the Knife River, tried to ride them to higher ground about 5 a.m. Saturday, but the horses were too scared. By early afternoon, the horses were tired, so the sisters were able to each ride one, pony the third and bring them to a barn that wasn't flooded about a mile away.

"We rode through water and it was about halfway up their bellies," McKinzee Stein said.

The horses made it through with just a couple of scratches.

"The crops probably are the biggest thing," dad Russ Stein said.

As for the house, where water in the basement reached 7 feet high, he said he's worried about being able to find a contractor with how busy they are in western North Dakota.

None of the Steins slept Friday night as they dealt with the flooding, and they've since spent at least 14 hours fixing fence.

"A lot of the fences got torn out, so we have cattle in all of these areas so when the fences go out, they just start wandering," Brew said.

Monday, the Steins also were trying to pump out their basement -- not too quickly, as the walls begin to rely on the water inside to prevent the water outside from caving them in.

'Scavenging' for belongings

Over in Halliday, Gee and Jamie Knopik spent Monday hunting -- for their belongings.

Flooding destroyed their horse barn, which Gee Knopik estimated was built in the 1940s, and sent everything in it floating in the river, which is a tributary to the Knife River. The Knopiks lost corrals, horse feed, a four-wheeler and more -- including everything they need for calving next spring.

The flood even swept away their six horses, which they didn't find until 10 a.m. Saturday. They were uninjured but shook-up, Gee Knopik said.

"The horses are standing where their stalls used to be," she said. "I think they're in shock."

She said donations of panels, railroad ties and continuous fence, and a 10-foot tire water tank would help.

As the Paulsons, Steins and Knopiks pick up the pieces, they are grateful for neighborly help, and that the only losses were material.

The Knopiks are inviting friends out for a "chainsaw and scavenging party" this weekend, to cut up trees that floated onto their property and go upriver and downriver to look for items lost.

The Killdeer Public School football team also volunteered to help them clean up.

A little west at the Steins' farm, a neighbor chased their cattle back onto their land and repaired the culprit broken fence.

Another neighbor came in with a boat and sense of humor, hollered "Farm rescue!" and helped bring Russ Stein around the property when the water was too high to walk.

"We're OK, our neighbors are OK, and that's the biggest part," Gee Knopik said. "You can replace fences. You can't replace neighbors."