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The spring of 2009 for members of Cass County Electric Cooperative (CCEC) and the greater Fargo- Moorhead area has proved to be a memorable one. Due to the record-breaking snowfalls and a warmer than average spring the surrounding rivers swelled and began to rise – causing major flooding. Anytime a significant event takes place, as humans we tend to remember it in specific details like where we were and what we did to help. Ten years from the 2009 flood, we wanted to reflect on and remember this significant event. It goes without question throughout history CCEC has survived the elements of Mother Nature.

Once forecasters predicted the flood, CCEC employees began filling sandbags in the Fargo warehouse. The sandbagging process was crucial to protecting the CCEC system and ensuring minimal damage. Engineering Technician, Dee DeGeest, remembers fighting on the front lines of the flood. Employees were paired together to patrol specific areas in the flood zone. “We were checking on members and making sure their electrical and safety needs were met,” DeGeest says, “As the water rose, we continued to inspect everything and deal with trouble spots where equipment was going under water.”

Journeyman Lineworker, Mike Mahlke, had recently been hired as a full-time apprentice lineworker and was still learning the system. Being unfamiliar with CCEC’s equipment as well as being one of the new guys on the crew could have made the situation more difficult for Mahlke, but he said the more experienced lineworkers kept information flowing and let him and the other apprentices know what they could do to help. CCEC crews worked around the clock to stay ahead of any issues that could have occurred because of the flood waters. Mahlke says he worked his regular shift from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and came back at 7 p.m. to start his 12-hour shift. He ended up working 22 hours.

Veteran CCEC employees had an idea of what to expect due to the 1997 flood that left a mass of destruction and taught countless lessons. Lessons such as how to approach certain roadways, how to protect substations and transformers, and most of all, how to work together to bring our members safe and reliable energy during a flood.

DeGeest was in the field with Manager of Technical Services, Chris Erickson, trying to get to a member’s house whose sump pump was no longer working. As they approached the area, they had no idea how dangerous the flood waters had gotten – the entire area had been evacuated, and the National Guard escorted people that were allowed in that neighborhood. Once Erickson and DeGeest fixed the problem in the member’s home, they spoke with a National Guard member, wondering why the area had was evacuated. “He let us see over the Hesco dikes by letting us climb the ladder to the top. It was shocking to see the water an inch from the top. It was extremely scary to see that we were that close. I had no idea that it was that bad,” DeGeest says as she tears up. CJ Erickson, another CCEC lineworker who faced some tough situations says, “we did our best to keep everyone’s power on as long and as safely as we could. Our crews worked together coming up with solutions to handle each potential situation.”

When asked about the flooding, both DeGeest and Mahlke had two very different experiences. Mahlke was battling the flood and what to do with his family. At the time his wife was pregnant, “We didn’t even know if she should stay in Fargo. The water was supposed to be so high, we didn’t know if hospitals were going to shut down or what was going happen,” says Mahlke, “My wife went to Bismarck and stayed with her mom, so I could stay and fight the flood.” Shortly after the flood, Mahlke and his wife had a healthy baby girl.

DeGeest was on the front lines with the members who were losing their homes and unsure what the future held for them. “Some of the most memorable things from the flood in 2009 was working with members who were losing their homes. It was very heart-wrenching to watch what they were going through. The hardest part for me was driving around and seeing the orange x’s on homes because you knew nobody was there. There were times where you really couldn’t help anybody other than comfort them because they were going through emotional turmoil. The best thing we could do was talk to them and help them that way,” DeGeest says, “I had one lady cry on my shoulder.”

“There was so much water covering poles, we were at the mercy of the river,” says Mahlke.

DeGeest says they always made sure their trucks had enough fuel, had the appropriate PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), and packed lots of snacks. “As far as safety precautions, we took our time. We understood that these were pressing issues and things needed to be fixed as soon as possible, but if we were to rush into a situation, we could end up making it way worse if one of us was hurt or in trouble,” says Mahlke.

When an emergency arises people find it in their hearts to come together. CCEC prides itself on our commitment to the community and during the flood that’s precisely what happened. “It was neat to see the unity at Cass County Electric – watching everybody fight for everyone else, making sandbags, taking care of our members – it brought a family feeling to the workplace. It was nice to see how employees cared about each other and everybody around us,” says Mahlke.


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