For Jessica Cleary and Duke Enns, Thursday, May 10 began like every other day: the couple walked their dog along the dike not far from their home in North Ruckle, a neighbourhood just south of downtown Grand Forks.
Within 24 hours, the couple will have packed up their belongings, sandbagged the neighbourhood and left their home behind as flood water from the nearby Kettle River crept up on their property.
Enns, 34, said he walks the dog along that path every day, but was surprised Thursday to see the water level come up nearly two feet overnight.
The couple, who have been engaged for over a year, usually doesn’t get much water in their home. They have a pump in the crawlspace, but Cleary, 29, said it was never really a problem.
“We never actually worried about flooding. The groundwater came up, we pumped it out,” Cleary said. “But Duke watching the river, seeing how much to came up that Wednesday to Thursday, that’s what caused us concern.”
Enns took the day off work to start packing, and Cleary came home a few hours later. Partly thinking they were overreacting, they took irreplaceable items, essentials and their dog to Cleary’s parents’ home. The water continued to rise, and the neighbourhood started sandbagging.
“It was impressive, the community effort … we managed to [sandbag] the whole dike,” Enns said. “We were stacking bags faster than the river was coming up, so in our minds we were winning, we were getting it.”
“We didn’t think the place was going to flood. We thought we were being proactive, but unnecessary,” Cleary said.
At the end of the day they were exhausted, and Cleary said she fell asleep on the couch. She didn’t wake up until about 1:30 a.m., when strange noises outside made her think the house was being robbed.
“I looked out to see if there were people in the yard and that’s when I saw the water,” Cleary said. “I yelled and Duke got up. I was running through this ice-cold water in a housecoat … It was such a shock to realize the water was here.”
The couple loaded up a few last things into their truck after Cleary got her car to high ground, and got out of there, leaving for Cleary’s parents.
North Ruckle, neighbouring the Kettle River, flooded that night after water came up and over the dike, and the dike failed.
The next day, they borrowed a boat from a friend, and Enns, Cleary and her father paddled up to the home.
The water was likely at least four and a half feet deep in the yard, and Enns said it was well over his knees inside.
The trio made two trips; it was after the second that Gazette reporter Kathleen Saylors took their photo.
Cleary said it was a split-second decision but she was sure they would need their camping gear, explaining the foam bedding in the photo.
“I think because I realized we weren’t going to be sleeping at home for a while … however long this takes, I’m going camping,” she said. “It seems like a silly thing to grab but I wanted it, so we grabbed it.”
There were other moments, besides the one photographed, where the situation hit home, Cleary said.
“It was when I went into our room, things I thought were safe [piled on the bed],” she said. ” We travel and seeing [our hammocks that] we get when we travel, seeing them soaked in this brown nasty water … walking though the water with things touching my feet, seeing your things floating …”
Both recalled seeing search and rescue teams in the neighbourhood, and commend them for the work they did.
Over the next few days, the couple rested and spent time with family. Monday rolled around and they went back to work – Enns as a carpenter, currently working with Habitat for Humanity, and Cleary as an early childhood educator at a local daycare.
“It’s a strange feeling, taking things to Jess’ parents and my parents, and just feeling really displaced,” Enns said.
Enns said he tried to go back to the home again twice – on Saturday he was turned away and left, but on Sunday he went in anyways after being told no a second time. He admits that was “probably ill- advised.”
“It was for our own safety, it is understandable,” Enns said.
Cleary and Enns were born and raised in Grand Forks. Enns owns the home, which he purchased with his father, and they do not have flood insurance. They will be applying for disaster financial assistance for the work on their home.
Last week, evacuation orders were rescinded for North Ruckle and residents were allowed to re-enter the area. Cleary checked on the home prior to being interviewed for this article, and said what awaited her was shocking.
“Garbage and grime,” Cleary said. “I didn’t walk inside, just looked, and that was enough. [There is] a lot of work ahead of us … but we can do it.”
Grand Forks has always and will always be home to them, Cleary said, no matter what happens. They are skeptical of suggestions, notably by Grand Forks Mayor Frank Konrad at a recent public meeting, that the neighbourhood be rebuilt elsewhere in the city. They said there are more practical options, for the time and money to build a new neighbourhood elsewhere.
The couple also acknowledged that they are likely one of the few homes in the neighbourhood to get some of their belongings out in time.
“There are people I know on the South side who were helping us on the North side all day, thinking they were safe … and then 1:30 in the morning rolls around and they have 15 minutes to leave,” Enns said. “It is heartbreaking. People put an effort forward to help someone else and then lost.”
Response efforts have been great, they said, from the volunteers, people bringing food, search and rescue teams and officials at last week’s public meeting. The support has been incredible, Cleary said. The couple also received a donation through the CannaFest GoFundMe.
“We went to the town meeting and seeing all the representatives there from the agencies … I didn’t realize there were so many people there to help us, and it makes us feel better,” she said.
“The community really did come out,” Enns added. “It was unfortunate that it was a losing battle, but you can’t win ‘em all, right?”