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Recurring flood fight in Otter Tail County leads to area weariness

It's been months since flooding was an immediate threat to Doug Seiler's home in rural Fergus Falls, along the Otter Tail River.

But Seiler still wakes with a start at the silence of his sump pumps and checks his basement first thing each morning just to make sure it's still dry.

"If it wasn't so real, you'd almost think it was stupid," he said.

Seiler and many homeowners living along rivers are experiencing what has become known as "flood fatigue" because of the recurring floods throughout the valley.

No true definition

There's no true definition of flood fatigue, but the symptoms people present are typical responses, such as sleep problems and anxiety, to repeated crises, said Dr. Andy McLean, medical director for the North Dakota Department of Human Services.

Anecdotal evidence points to flood fatigue becoming more of an issue this year, especially for those who live right along the river, McLean said.

While early predictions about the flood are giving people time to physically prepare for the event, it also leaves ample time to worry, McLean said.

The ongoing stress each year is often leading to more compromising from homeowners, McLean said.

"Before, they didn't mind sandbagging," he said. "People who would never have considered selling their homes are considering buyouts."

Keeping a community healthy during a crisis boils down to resilience, he said.

A new group of public health, social services, medical and spiritual leaders formed to create the Red River Resilience Project.

Jackie Crawford, the group's chairwoman, said the Fargo-Moorhead area is held up as a national example of how to deal with a crisis emotionally and spiritually.

Resilience is what can help homeowners get through a flood year after year, she said.

"When you go through any kind of adversity... your ability to bounce back from that and adapt to the changes is what constitutes being resilient," she said.

The group identified the following steps to building resilience:

- Foster hope: Focus on the positive, have confidence in yourself and put things in perspective.

- Act with purpose: Make a plan, move toward goals and engage in active coping.

- Connect with others: Maintain relationships, give and receive help and spend time with friends or family.

- Take care of yourself: Eat well, get adequate sleep, stay physically active, take time to relax and nurture your spiritual side.

- Search for meaning: Find a positive meaning in the crisis, learn about yourself and look for personal growth.

Moving forward

Seiler knows a thing or two about flood fatigue. He battled the Red River when he lived south of Fargo in the early '90s and helped his neighbors near the Horace Diversion fight the '97 flood.

The Otter Tail River behind Seiler's home rose dramatically in December because of an ice jam, but he's still hopeful about avoiding flooding this spring.

"We're not runners," he said. "I suspect it will take at least one spring to make sure that everything we've done works."