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Citadel News Service
13 Apr 2009

Cadet's spring break turns into test of hope

Cadet Kate Hardina was relaxing at the beach with friends when news from home caused her to think twice about how she planned to spend her spring break. 

Cadet Kate Hardina, right, spent her spring break in her hometown of Fargo, N.D., helping family and friends, like Erika Peuser, left, protect their neighborhood from floodwaters from the Red River. The Red River may crest again at record levels this week.

The sophomore from Fargo, N.D., was increasingly worried about the rising Red River. The 550-mile North flowing river winds around her family’s neighborhood. Heavy rains and rising water threatened to flood hundreds of people, including her parents, out of their homes.

“Every 15 minutes on the Weather Channel, they were talking about Fargo,” she said. “It had me worried.”

It did not take much for Hardina to decide between lovely spring temperatures in Charleston and her hometown, where temperatures were between 5 degrees and 10 degrees and snow was still on the ground.

“I found a plane ticket and called my mom,” she said.

Spring break typically is a time for college students to take a break from the books and perhaps enjoy some rest and relaxation on a cruise, on the beach or anywhere warm. Many volunteer for mission trips and Habitat for Humanity builds and other similar programs. But in Fargo the last few weeks it was not unusual to see college students working alongside high school kids, residents and the National Guard troops called in to the town of 90,000 people, filling sandbags and building walls to protect property from flood water.

“On Monday I was lying on the beach here,” she said. “On Tuesday I was sandbagging in Fargo.”

From her seat on the plane ride home, Hardina said it was surreal to see so much of the town covered in water.

“It wasn’t as bad as it was going to get at that point but there was already a massive effort under way. There were thousands of people outside. The schools had closed so people could come out and help. North Dakota State University let people out of class to go help,” she said.

Residents help fill and move sandbags in Cadet Kate Hardina's Fargo, N.D., neighborhood as flood waters threaten hundreds of homes. It’s grueling work. A sandbag can weigh 50 pounds.

Once home Hardina joined thousands of others filling and moving sandbags. It’s grueling work. A sandbag can weigh 50 pounds. The days would begin early and end late. Caravans of trucks carrying sand arrived day and night. And the news media and their helicopters hovering overheard became fixtures in Fargo.

When she wasn’t filling sandbags or helping load them, she helped her mother and father move belongings out of their basement and relocate the family cats in case floodwaters breached the levy that was a block from her house.

“I’d get home at the end of the day and not be able to lift my arms and I would be sore all over,” she said. “Everyone was tired and thought about giving up. But people kept coming. I bet there were 10,000 a day who came out to help.”

With the sandbags the levy held and her neighborhood did not flood. Water has begun to recede and clean up is under way. Families just across the river in Minnesota were not as lucky.

Doug Hardina wrote The Citadel shortly after his daughter boarded a plane for the trip back to Charleston.

“My daughter…had spring break last week, and instead of vacationing with friends in warmer climates, she called home and asked to help with our city's struggle,” he said. “I thanked her, as she is on her way back to Charleston now, but I also want to thank The Citadel for the values you help instill in your students. It is appreciated.” Hardina said she’s flattered by her dad’s remarks, but adds she did not do anything special.

“I just did what I felt was right,” she said. “I would hope anybody would want to help out their hometown. I decided I needed to be there to help out.”

The Red River may crest again this week. With the levies in place, Hardina is hopeful.

“The community is optimistic they can handle the flooding," she said. "But have to prepare for the worse and hope for the best.”

Photos courtesy of Doug and Kate Hardina.

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