OXBOW, N.D. – Adrenaline and two hours of sleep got Mike Wieser through the night. But as he gasped for air and looked wearily at his country home slowly being absorbed by a lake of flood water, the new father looked like he would soon be running on empty.
Water was seeping through his homemade dike, he was counting on three pumps to continue spitting out more water than was coming in, and the only other man there to keep it all afloat on Wednesday was his father-in-law.
"It's closing in," he said.
Others are in the same boat. While Fargo and Bismarck get most of the attention as floodwaters approach, people in the countryside are quietly, and wearily, fighting a flood that has already arrived.
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"They don't believe Fargo is going to give them any help," 20-year rural mail carrier Rhonda Wyum said about rural residents while snow swirled around her SUV on an icy intersection about 15 miles south of Fargo.
She was unable to deliver mail to some residents because of flooded roads and said conditions were worse than in 1997, when a historic flood ravaged the area.
"If you listen to the news, it's all Fargo. A lot of these little townships around here are struggling, and people don't know it."
Cass County Sheriff Paul D. Laney said 46 people had been rescued or evacuated from 15 homes in Oxbow and a six-mile corridor to the north. Laney expected more evacuations Thursday.
Reaction to the rural-urban dichotomy from country folks illuminates the lifestyle of self-reliance in this sparse, harsh swath of the northern Plains.
In interviews with residents, no one complained. Even as they fought off flood waters and at the same time a snowstorm raged.
Wyum said most rural residents don't begrudge the attention Fargo is getting, understanding that the city "has the fight of its life on its hands."
The mood out here is oddly calm.
As 72-year-old Don Tessier stood alone near the country home where he has lived for 51 years, he shrugged off suggestions his house was in danger. The tidy structure was nearly encircled by water, standing atop a mound Tessier built upon after a flood 40 years ago.
He was more interested in showing off a shin-high chalk mark on a piece of angle-iron in his shed that recorded the water level in 1997.
"It's still got a ways to go," he said in a chipper tone. Tessier stood on dry ground, but water seeping into a nearby corner of the shed formed a small pool.
Like Wieser, Tessier spoke gratefully of the help he had already received from volunteers when asked about the attention paid to Fargo. Five people from Minneapolis who work for the same company as his neighbor, but were strangers to Tessier, helped him build a dike in recent days.
Emergency officials keeping an eye on areas outside Fargo maintained there hasn't been a lack of volunteers, or emergency help.
There was evidence of that on Wednesday in the hamlet of Oxbow, about 10 miles south of Fargo. Emergency teams from the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service swooped into the area with airboats to evacuate a handful of homes surrounded by Red River flood water.
Fifteen-year-old Destiny Dolan and her friend, Kayla Weston, sat shivering in the front of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife boat seconds after they were picked up by emergency responders.
"It was terrifying," Dolan said of being in the home as flood waters encircled it. She lives in Fargo but had been at Weston's home near the river helping build dikes. "I felt very trapped."
Water didn't come into the home but was high enough they couldn't leave.
Just a few blocks down the street, Cass County Sheriff's Deputy Steve Hahn explained that arrangements for the boats to come if needed were made weeks ago when officials predicted possible flooding problems.
But no amount of planning may be able to help residents of more remote areas that can be difficult or impossible to reach because of closed roads.
Cass County Emergency Management Director Dave Rogness was hoping residents could hold it all together using the toughness they've displayed during previous floods.
But everyone has a breaking point.
"When you look at people's resiliency levels and independence in rural areas — it's at a high level," Rogness said. "But this may push their limits."