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Published June 01 2012

Minot residents: To stay or to go?

MINOT, N.D. – Tina Collom is constantly reminded of what she lost when the Souris River took over her home.

Even the act of making a pie brought back a flood of memories when the 83-year-old Minot woman remembered she no longer owned a pie tin. That – along with the rest of her kitchen – was swallowed up last June.

“They tell you to move on. If I hear that once more, I’m going to explode,” Collom said. “It’s hard to move on when you lost everything.”

It’s been about a year since the Souris flooded this city and displaced more than 11,000 residents. Collom is among those who never will return home.

A year ago, she proudly showed off the beautiful flowers in her yard one last time before she was forced to evacuate.

Collom bought her home in 1968, just months before the city’s 1969 flood. She and her home recovered from that, but she had a feeling this time would be different.

”We won’t have nothing to come back to this time,” she said, gazing at her home on June 21, 2011.

She was right.

The floodwaters devastated her treasured house and flowers, ruining furniture, appliances and the remodeling work finished just weeks before.

Now, the home remains unlivable, and Collom can’t bear to go there anymore to see the ruins.

She and her son, Stuart, now live in a trailer, unable to afford anything else in a city with skyrocketing home and rental prices. She’s had problems with her health and misses the days she could tend to her beloved flowers in her yard.

Collom, appalled by the home prices in the city and realizing her hometown will never be the same, is considering moving to Bismarck.

“Everybody’s gotten greedy,” she said. “It’s not a good place to live. And the traffic here is just horrendous.”

City officials don’t know how many people decided to move away from Minot as a result of last year’s flooding, but “certainly there’s plenty,” Mayor Curt Zimbelman said.

Some were near retirement age and thinking of leaving anyway, he said. Others of all ages didn’t have the financial resources to recover there or weren’t up to the task of rebuilding.

“I think, across the board, we lost good citizens,” Zimbelman said.

Wayne and Mary Hill are among those who gave up and left Minot after the floodwater climbed to 4.5 feet on the main floor of their home.

With help from friends and strangers, the couple managed to save furniture and other belongings before they evacuated. But they lost things, such as a piano, clothes, towels and kitchen items.

Mary Hill, 71, remembers her husband insisting they could go back home after the flood.

“I said, ‘No, Wayne. You haven’t seen it. There’s no way we can go back,’ ” she said. “Finally, I had to take him down there. We walked him through it. Then I think it finally hit him that no, this wasn’t going to be an easy thing to do.”

Wayne’s poor health meant they would have to hire help to repair their home, and they knew that would be expensive. They decided to find another home but struggled to find one with the housing shortage and “out of sight” prices, Mary Hill said.

After several months of living with a cousin or friends, the couple sold their Minot home and moved to Maple Grove, Minn., in November to be closer to family.

George and Joanne Slanger also left Minot and their flooded home behind for a new life in Minnesota. After living almost 40 years in Minot, they moved to Lakeville in October.

Joanne Slanger, 70, said they had considered moving closer to family and the flood accelerated the decision.

The couple lost about 40 percent of their possessions in the flood and sold their gutted home “for pennies on the dollar.” Slanger, a former elementary teacher, said she tries not to dwell on the flood, but it’s sometimes hard.

“The horror of moving your home, it doesn’t really hit you in the midst of dealing with it,” she said. “It’s afterwards that, you know, you think, ‘I can’t believe that we went through that.’ ”

There have been benefits to life after the flood. Slanger said she never anticipated the joy she’s found living close to her daughter again, and she enjoys volunteering at a local elementary school.

But she misses her friends and grieves for the losses of so many in her former community.

“There’s so many people that don’t have the money to fix their house up,” she said. “They don’t have an option of where to live. It’s just horrible.”


Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.


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