March 29th, 2009
07:42 AM ET

Dear President Obama #69: When the levee breaks

Reporter's Note: The President has asked for advice. At a letter a day, I am asking for something too. More stamps.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/weather/03/29/north.dakota.flooding/art.sandbagbrigade.gi.jpg]

Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

I know it’s the weekend and you’re probably trying to get some rest, but I really can’t help thinking about North Dakota. Floods are always awful, but in the winter they are particularly miserable. Yes, it is technically spring, but having lived in the Dakotas I know that winter is not really over until the cows are not just horns poking out of the snow.

In any event, I keep thinking of all those people piling sandbags and hope against that torrent of water; working to save their land, their homes, their towns. The first five sandbags are fun. The next fifty are serious work. And from then on they are a backbreaking series of little battles with gravity, that make your arms throb, your shoulders ache, your lungs burn, and your legs wobble.

I know from the many floods I have covered, nothing about this spectacle is glamorous. Even when sandbaggers get their pictures on the news, they rarely see them. They are either still on the line, or collapsed in a car, or on a floor for a few fitful hours of sleep before pulling their exhausted muscles back to the levee. (And, btw, while you are working on all these ideas about new technology and green energy, toss that onto the list. Certainly by this point in evolution we ought to have a faster, less humanly consumptive way of stopping a river from getting too big for its bridges.)

We talk too easily about heroism, often mistaking anyone who has been under gunfire or in front of a wildfire as heroic. These people in the Dakotas, however, really are heroic; laboring hour after hour, knowing at any moment the river could yet break free, taking them, their hard work, and their struggle for survival down in a deluge of icy water.

This Sunday, I’ll pray for them in church, and I hope you will too. But I’ll pray for something else too. It’s easy for everyone to get concerned about places like North Dakota when something awful happens there. Yet it’s also easy for us all to forget those less crowded places on the map when the water passes. But there are good people out there every day of the year, and when the waters recede they’ll probably need some help. Rebuilding dams, patching roads, mending fences, and repairing buildings. You’ve already taken some steps to provide assistance, but please don’t let your interest retreat with the waters. I feel like I’ve seen too many politicians and Presidents do that; roll out the help when the headlines are hot, then quickly move on to the next shiny thing.

They people of North Dakota have little political or economic power. Washington DC has almost as many residents as their whole state. But Presidents, I think, can only become truly great if they concentrate on doing the right thing even when there is nothing to gain for them, or their party; when they step up to the weary sandbaggers and say, “You’ve done your part. Now let me do mine;” and then stick with the job until the danger has truly passed.

Enjoy your Sunday. Call if you can.



For more of the Foreman Letters, go here.

soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Michael "C" Lorton, VA

    Flood me once---shame on me--flood me twice-–I would be out of there--Look at Katrina---they are still waiting--your Government has your best interest at heart--it just that the Government doesn't have a heart.

    March 30, 2009 at 9:02 am |
  2. Lamont Austin

    I cant believe people were denying federal svc saying that they're different kind of people and they didnt want help leaving there homes, If federal help had'nt responded there would've been a backlash like Bush and Katrina. It seems as though people and the media are trying to paint a negative picture of our president at any end and to no avail. as a black man thats how I've been treated all of my life. Come on America get on board, I just had a son (half black half white) and I'm not trying to see the world end yet !!!

    Oh and I'm willing to debate how crazy most repubs. are except Mccains Daughter...

    Lamont Austin

    March 30, 2009 at 6:37 am |
  3. Elizabeth

    water is water, it is a hand of nature, people really need to get a handle on it before it gets out of CONTROL. Is'nt that what the President has been talking about all along.....
    Get a grip, or get out of the way. He is ONE person, what can one person do NOW. HELLO?
    Get a boat, get out, watch the water rise, and watch it fall, if that's what you do . Obvisiously, because your still having a "water problem.,
    Are you waiting for a knight in White Shiny armor to stave you.


    March 30, 2009 at 4:44 am |
  4. shanebishop

    Yes, certainly, pray for the sandbaggers. I know a youth pastor in Fargo who had a heart attack while piling sandbags to save his home and others. It's hard work, and very thankless.

    March 29, 2009 at 10:34 pm |
  5. Brian Meador

    I understand about the re-strusture of a failing company,afterallI ownmy own buissnes;BUt I dont see what gives obama the right to tell GM who can or cannot run GM in order to recieve Gov.Help.Esspically when the reason why the car industry is in trouble to begin with is the banks that are to big to fail,Well MR.President they did fail and they also recieved Ten times more of the money that the car industry recieved all together,And the presHasnt told them who can run their buissness on the tax payers dime.

    March 29, 2009 at 7:55 pm |
  6. Lorraine in Louisiana

    A powerful metaphor if there ever was one.

    March 29, 2009 at 3:02 pm |
  7. Teresa

    Funny aint it?

    How much we expect out of our presidents these days. It used to be a prez was just the figure head and might have ONE BIG event happen during his presidency.

    Now, not only do we want the prez to walk on water, we want him to recede the waters and not take any credit for it.

    Love your letters Tom : ) And thanks for praying for the peeps in the flood regions.

    March 29, 2009 at 12:35 pm |
  8. Nancy Devine

    Terrific letter, Tom.
    I'm from North Dakota and endured the flood of 1997 in Grand Forks.
    Nothing glamorous about sand-bagging, that's for sure. And the clean-up is awful.

    March 29, 2009 at 12:30 pm |
  9. robyn caffrey keyser west virginia

    att : tom

    all thoughts and prayers goes out to this town

    ( everybody " who resides in this neiborghhood " has " god's angels on there write shoulder.

    March 29, 2009 at 12:10 pm |
  10. Rikki, Fargo, ND

    Hey Tom, Thank you for this letter today! It so great to know that so many people are thinking about us up here and praying for us. The people that live up here are so amazing and they get up and they work and they don't complain. And those who can't sandbag showed up to pass out food and make food. I'm very proud to call North Dakota my home! I can't say its surprising to see the turn out of volunteers for sandbagging. We don't go down without a fight! We wouldn't call ourselves heroes, we just answered the call to help out our neighbors, because that's what needed to be done. Thanks again for your letter today, Tom!

    March 29, 2009 at 11:47 am |
  11. Isabel (Brazil)

    Good morning, Tom!

    Excellent article!
    I was lazy this weekend to read, to comment, ...
    but worth start by yours.

    But Tom, this things almost always happens ... when is the apex of problem and the matter don't give more votes or hearing to the media, is forgotten, left aside and the people played the very lucky.

    The Katrina was in 2005. Am I right?
    And there are still people who do not recover their lives back.
    What is being done about it? AC showed volunteers there in Nola 10 days ago and has shown a lot, but the solutions effective government?

    And when I was in Brazil, my vision was so different. I thought that America was the dream, everything was perfect, and problems were solved in a snap.
    It is not, but believe me, it's still better than my life experience.

    But we must fight for these disasters are not forgotten and people are abandoned. Or at last encouraging volunteers work when the government fails to account.

    Good Sunday to everyone!

    March 29, 2009 at 10:54 am |
  12. Maria

    Happy morning Tom,

    “You’ve done your part. Now let me do mine;”

    Levee can break anytime, ND people did thier part, and they believe it is nature. As their road fill with challenges, we pray for them, yet they are fully ready for the levee break at anytime. Americans will support ND people at all time, as they did with Katrina.

    I am praying for them to, and looking to pass the hard time.

    Enjoy your Sunday Tom and take care of your kids by transforming the ideal values and mesures at any times. The candle light was green for the earth hour.

    Thanks for support and go for it.

    March 29, 2009 at 8:21 am |