Evacuating Elders in a Disaster

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Some background:

We, in Fargo, North Dakota (where I live) and Moorhead, Minnesota – cities divided by the Red River of the North, are in a fight of our lives. We thought the worst flood threat was behind us.

In the spring of 1997, record snow melts and a disastrous ice storm in April brought on flooding throughout this flat river valley of rich farmland that was once the bottom of prehistoric Lake Agazzi.

This spring, because of many factors, we are experiencing even higher flood levels. Amazing people from Alaska to Florida, Wisconsin and other areas have shown up to help fight the water. Hampered by more snow and record low temperatures now (which freezes sandbags and keeps the sand from forming tight bonds), these people are working night and day. The crest prediction keeps rising. The biggest problem will be keeping the dikes from breaking as the pressure from the high water sits for most of next week, slowly moving north. Yes, this river moves north.

The dikes get saturated and weak. The pressure is huge. A major break is always possible.

Now for elders and evacuation. In 1997, Ada, Minnesota and Wahpeton (ND)/Breckenridge(MN), which are also divided by the Red River, had ice jams which called for emergency evacuation from nursing homes. The TV footage still haunts me – frail, confused elders being taken out of nursing home windows and put in boats to get them to safety. In my book, a story is told by a daughter whose father was evacuated from an Ada nursing home. For hours, she didn't know where he was. He never fully recovered, mentally.

We, in Fargo, are now evacuating our vulnerable people in case the worst happens and we go under, like Grand Forks, ND did in 1997. It could happen here. Evacuation (or even the thought of it) is emotionally and mentally hard on all of us. People are leaving their homes, not knowing what they will go back to. I haven't had to do this – yet, but the stress is huge.

For you? Think of your elders. What would you do? Whether they are in a nursing home, in an apartment or living with you, what would you pack? What would you do if, because of a hurricane, flood, tornado or fire, you were told you had to move them NOW. The power is cut off. Water must be shut off.

They are already confused. They are frightened. So are you, but you try not to show it. What medications must go with? Is there something small but comforting you could grab? No one wants to think of these things, but they are all too real. They happen.

I'm asking for prayers for our cities; for our elders and sick people who are now being evacuated by ambulances from several states and taken to hospitals in other areas, many miles from home; for people in nursing homes who have been moved to the highest floors, but may have to be take to strange places – without their families; for children who are frightened. I'm asking for prayers for incredible people who come from the safety of their own homes, who leave their jobs and families to come and help strangers.

Pray for us, if you will. I'll keep you updated.


Thank you for letting us know about your situation there. Praying also for hospital and nursing staff, for the handling of the influx of new residents and patients. A difficult situation for all. You have touched on a lot of areas we wouldn't normally think of. Being prepared is wise. Disasters don't always happen to "the other guy." Thanks, Carol. Great post.
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Thanks, Anne.

They had to evacuate Elim nursing home last night. The site of those frightened, cold people is heartbreaking, and the families are struggling. Some are still trying to figure out where everyone is. Better safe than sorry, but it's awful. This whole next week will be frightening. I live very close to the nursing home where my elders spent their last years. It's a little higer elevation, but that is relative. We are very flat. If the dikes give way next week, we're all in trouble. I'll be watching the decisions made at all the homes.

Besides prayer, is there anything we in Michigan, or other places caregivers on this site write from, can do to be help to you there? You have alerted us to something few realize, and my heart goes out to those poor frightened seniors who need to be moved for their own safety. Wow! That must be chaotic. How easy it is to take our comfort for granted, not knowing others are struggling so. Let us know if there is something we can do.
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Thanks, Anne. They have now stopped sandbagging, as they feel it's good to 43 feet (the predicted crest is 42, we hope, tomorrow).

The National Guard is patrolling for leaks, and so are law enforcement and thousands of weary citizens. President Obama called our mayor to lend support. FEMA is here. Our Governor declared a disaster early on.

Even Bismarck, in the normally dry central part of the state, has problems on the Missouri, but they dynamited the ice jams and got the water moving, so that is flowing better, now.

We now have to wait and watch and pray the dikes in Fargo hold. That's why the evacuation of the elders and other vulnerable people is smart. There's no danger now, and it's more orderly. They don't have to boat them out and that's what they want to avoid.

They want those who can go to familiar places out of the area to do so. The others are being transported by ambulance and paratransit, to safe areas. Blocks and blocks of ambulances from all over were lined up last night. Quite a site!

But it's so hard on these folks. However, not as hard as in actual flood water, so it's good planning. I'm trying to get an idea if all nursing homes will evacuate. I doubt it, as many are on better elevations. The problem is, if the dikes give way, the water comes fast and then there's big trouble.

I have hope. But this is the most water we've ever had and it's coming fast from the Wild Rice River south of us, which flows into the Red, and then north. So there are several scary days to go.

Not much more people from outside can do, unless we go under, and then a lot of help will be needed. There will be a ton of cleanup afterward, and many people will have wet homes and lots of headaches. Maybe this time we'll get the flood protection we've been trying to get for decades!

Thanks for caring, Anne,
You're welcome. Thanks for letting us know. I'm sure others would be as interested, but there's lots going on in other lives on the other sites right now, too. So many needs and hurting people. Just love this place, and the connections made in concern and love. Keep us posted on how it's going.
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We're still dry in the main city, but most nursing homes evacuated. If the dikes hold all week, then people will complain that they evacuated these vulnerable people and didn't need to. But if we go under, then if would be the "right" decision.

You're right that this isn't news to many people - they have their own problems. But thinking of what to do in a disaster is important for all of us taking care of vulnerable people.

Take care, Anne. We're hanging in. The River crested today, and we'll be at high alert for a good week. But the Guard is here, and that helps a lot.

Thanks for keeping us posted. Take care Carol. Blessings, Anne
I just now read your posts Carol. My heart goes out to all that have to face this crisis. And you are so right about being prepared for any disaster. A lot of us don't think about it until it is too late. I know, even though I live in the mountains where we have had many fires up here, I still am not 100% prepared like I should be. Hugs and prayers to you! Nauseated
Dear Carol,

You are the strongest woman I know - I hope you are taking care of yourself too.
You have given everyone alot to think about. I pray you and everyone in ND stays as safe as possible for the duration of the emergency. As a member of our local Red Cross DAT and CERT (community emergency response team) I have participated in drills at healthcare and LTC facilities & understand the magnitude of disaster planning on a personal level. lease let us know what you may need and what agency we can send donations through.

Another note today we saw on the news that a shooter went on a rampage at a SNF in NC killing residents and a nurse as well as injuring others. I hope everyone who participates on this board not only helps with relief efforts for ND - but considers putting a disaster plan in place for themself and family and makes the time to attend at least one training class. For those who have family in facilities, now is also the time to ask administrators about safety and disaster drills, and ask to be involved in their in-service training for drills.
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Thanks for your kind words, Cat, and also for underscoring the need to talk to facility administrators about disaster planning. The last time we had a flood of this magnitude, there was no plan in place. This has been very hard on elders and families (our mayor wasn't even sure where his mother was for awhile!). But, if they didn't evacuate and the dikes give way, then what?

There is no easy answer and this wasn't done lightly. Things are looking better now, but we won't be out of the woods for a week or more - and guess what? We are now getting a blizzard on top of it, with many inches of new snow, plus wind. Pray the wind stays down, as high wind stirs up the water and weakens the dikes.

That said, I think we'll be okay. Tons of hard work and lots of prayer have gone into this fight. If people do want to donate, The Red Cross or Salvation Army are good places. If they set up a special fund for flood victims, I'll pass it on. That is likely, after things get settled.

That shooting is really frightening! How horrible for those people.

Again, blessings, Cat. You are such a gift to this site.


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