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Bemidji area flooding: Sandbaggers work to protect home

(from left) volunteers Russ Werdman, Mark Anderson, Vinnie Roy and Matty Bowstring unload sandbags as they build one of three dikes Wednesday morning to help protect Jeremy and Michelle Leffelman's home near Whiting Road Northwest. Lack of bags slowed the process. Calls went out to local businesses to find more bags. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

As light snow fell early Wednesday afternoon, sandbaggers worked to keep water from reaching a house north of Bemidji.

The house, where Jeremy and Michelle Leffelman and their three children live, was threatened by flood waters.

"It's just, I don't know, unreal," Michelle Leffelman said in her driveway as she held a bag open and another person filled it with sand. "Luckily the house is still dry on the inside."

The Leffelmans moved to the housing development off Whiting Road Northwest a couple of years ago.

"I've never seen it like this," Michelle Leffelman said.

Water has collected around the house, which sits in a low area.

"It's kind of like a lake on both sides and a river behind us," Michelle Leffelman said. "We did a dike to the south and the north and now we're just sandbagging around the house."

Volunteers from several local agencies and organizations along with others from the area worked Wednesday to prevent water from reaching the house. Among them were 25 students from Kelliher School along with several staff members and a school board member.

Kelliher School Superintendent Tim Lutz, who was with the group, said students and teachers approached him Tuesday to ask if they could help with the flood-relief efforts.

Originally planning to travel to the Fargo, N.D., area to help with the flood-relief efforts there, staff members and students decided to help locally instead. Lutz said they felt that if there was a need, helping out locally would be a better way to use their time and energy.

Volunteering complements the school's focus this month on community as part of a schoolwide respect initiative.

"We thought the timing was perfect for getting involved with the community," Lutz said.

Sophomore Evan Nelson and junior Charlie Schuh were among the students from Kelliher School who were sandbagging at the house.

"It's good to help the people in the house," Nelson said.

"Give back a little," Schuh added.

Dave Warren, maintenance director with the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe Finance Corporation in Cass Lake, also volunteered Wednesday at the house.

"It's a time of need," he said.

He and volunteer Tim Pierce were able to use the corporation's water pump and hoses to pump water from the flood stage to into the ditches.

"It's going good," Warren said.

As of early Wednesday afternoon, Jeff and Jessica Kemp were able to keep water from entering their house. The couple and their daughter live east of Lake Bemidji on Valley View Drive Northeast.

Jeff Kemp said the area flooded a few years ago. Since then, two holding ponds were put in place to catch runoff from the surrounding area, he said. But, he noted, those holding ponds have filled up with water and now water has crept into the neighborhood.

"Since those have filled up, the water has to go somewhere," Jeff Kemp said. "Yesterday, we sandbagged around my entire house as well as three of my neighbors."

So far, he said early Wednesday afternoon, the sandbags have kept water out of their house and he has been able to pump what comes into the yard out faster than it comes in.

Some of the Kemps' neighbors, however, have not been as fortunate. Jeff Kemp said some neighbors have water in their houses.