USD, SDNG, local volunteers join forces as river rises

Weary members of the South Dakota National Guard began arriving at the Muenster University Center on the University of South Dakota campus to enjoy a bit of rest and hot meal. More than 1,000 South Dakota National Guard soldiers and airmen are now supporting flooding operations in the Pierre, Fort Pierre, Dakota Dunes, Vermillion, and Yankton communities. It is expected that up to 600 National Guard soldiers could be housed on the USD campus for up to two months this summer. (Photo by David Lias)

The arrival of summer usually marks the beginning of a slow period for the University of South Dakota campus.

However, the threat of flooding along the Missouri River has made it a center of prevention efforts, with members of the National Guard and regular citizens joining together to help those in need.

I think we actually have more people on campus right now to take care of than we do during the normal year, and the summer help is gone because we dont usually have this many people, said USD President James Abbott.

It all came together very quickly, said Bob Fitzpatrick, director of USDs Marketing and University Relations Department with an e-mail sent to available staff and students the morning of Tuesday, May 31.

Within only a few hours, between the people we sent out to Dakota Dunes and Yankton, and the people who were doing stuff on campus, we had close to 100 people already getting their hands on this, he said. Its a grassroots operation, but at this point weve probably had more than 300 people get involved.

Also arriving that day were more than 200 members of the National Guard, who have since taken temporary residence in campus dorms when theyre not busy at the future flood sites.

Help was needed in preparing their rooms and getting food together for them, Fitzpatrick said. Aramark is feeding them, but we have volunteers whove been serving breakfast and dinner to them, and also putting together box lunches for them.

As of last week, Abbott said volunteers worked shifts from 5-7 a.m. and 7-9 p.m. serving food to the Guard members.

When they go to 24 hours which they might already have done were going to feed them 24 hours a day, he said.

Guard members are still arriving the tally is now about 600, Fitzpatrick said. At least 100 more could still come after the conclusion of 2011 South Dakota Girls State, which took place on the USD campus last week.

The highest number weve heard that it could reach probably not more than 700, Fitzpatrick said. But the thing is, they could stay at least a couple of months. And obviously, when it gets to be August, were going to have students coming back and we might have to go to a Plan B at that point.

The Guard members could stay anywhere from two weeks to two months.

There are real unknowns with this flooding I think the real magnitude of the damage will not be known until the middle of the month when all of these dams are going to be open to their full pressure, Fitzpatrick said.

Local student and community volunteers had a chance to see first hand some of those areas that could be subject to future damage when they have gone to help fill sandbags at such places as Dakota Dunes, McCook Lake and the Ponderosa area.

Last week, volunteers had the option of working three different four-hour shifts, starting at 8 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5 p.m., respectively, Fitzpatrick said.

Many of the volunteers are USD athletes, some of the few students who are on campus during the summer.

Let me tell you, Abbott said. I sandbagged two shifts in two days, and Im pretty happy to turn that over to the athletes. Theyve really been helping.

Abbott said its difficult to tell exactly what the damage might entail if and when the flood waters reach Dakota Dunes.

Its kind of interesting, because you see so little of it when you drive there, he said. We went right to where were supposed to sandbag, we did our sandbagging until they asked us to leave, and then we left. Ive seen the aerial pictures. Its kind of scary. You wonder if you can be successful at all, if you look at the magnitude of the problem and then the number of sandbags you actually have to add. But you know what? Were doing the best we can and helping our friends and neighbors.

If some of those neighbors find themselves temporarily without a place to go after the flood, Julian Hall is being prepared as a shelter to be coordinated through the Red Cross and Clay County Emergency Management, Abbott said.

As the possibility of a flood draws closer, volunteers continue to be sought.

We put out a call every day, Fitzpatrick said. We put out an e-mail and update the Web site and tell people we still need them. And people have been coming across, so thats good.

Were very happy that on such short notice weve got a lot of good people here whove been willing to pitch in and help, he said.

The whole community has been wonderful, Abbott added. Im really proud of our employees here at USD for stepping up to the plate. Theyre doing what they should be doing which is to make sure that people in Clay County and Union County are taken care of.

For more information about volunteering, call (605) 677-5011.

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