Town of Oslo prepares to become an ‘island’ during flooding

Wednesday, Gov. Tim Walz declared a peacetime emergency and activated the Minnesota National Guard to assist communities at high risk of flooding.

The governor signed an emergency executive order to provide immediate aid to areas that are expected to be hit hardest by rising river levels from spring snowmelt.

“With the Guard in here everybody breathes a little sigh of relief,” Oslo Mayor Erika Martens said.

Nearly 20 soldiers from the Moorhead-based 2nd Combined Arms Battalion 136th Infantry mobilized Wednesday to assist with monitoring levees and flood protection systems, as well as supporting potential rescue and evacuation operations, according to a National Guard spokesperson.

The town of around 300 residents often experiences flooding from the Red River.

Martens said normally the town provides more volunteers to help but COVID-19 has limited response.

Gov. Walz declares peacetime emergency to prepare for flooding

“It’s hard to get people out especially with the COVID," Martens said. "Everybody is trying to stay in, we’re not getting the volunteer response that we usually do."

The couple roads leading into town were covered with floodwaters, according to officials.

Guard officials went to town earlier in the day to make sure there is enough space for soldiers to practice social distancing as they bunk at the town’s fire hall.

"The concerns with the ‘COVID piece,’ that concerns us as well,” said Lt. Colonel Scott Rohweder, with the Minnesota National Guard. “With the soliders going up there, we make sure they have the right equipment on hand to protect themselves and the community up there."

Kitty Stromberg, the owner of Kitty’s Café, is preparing to feed the soldiers during their stay in town battling the floods.

“We’ll get them fed so they can keep us safe,” Stromberg said.

In years past, Stromberg said the community would eat with the National Guard at her restaurant. However, that will change but that will change due to COVID-19 restrictions on dining establishments.

“I plan to serve them a nice Easter ham dinner," Stromberg said. "It will be different eating it out of Styrofoam box. It’s got to be tough to come out to a small town like this and take care of us and be away from their family at the holiday.”

The National Guard’s expected to remain in Oslo past the Easter holiday as the Red River remains well over flood stage.