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Combined Efforts Help Evacuate World War II Veteran from Flooded Home

In a vivid demonstration of how agencies work together to help others during a flood, a handful of county, state and federal assets combined forces today to evacuate a World War II veteran from his rural home between Argusville and Harwood, N.D.

Jeremy Johnson called the Cass County Sheriff's when he became concerned about his neighbor, 87-year-old Obert Tenold.

"They hadn't had a response (when they called) and the neighbors were concerned about his well-being," said Capt. Grant Larson, who serves as a liaison officer in the Cass County tactical operations center, or TOC.

Larson and Lt. Col. Nathan Erstad, both members of the 119th Wing of the North Dakota National Guard, work in the TOC.

The Cass County Sheriff's Department took the call, and Larson and Erstad coordinated with the department regarding the Guard's response. A North Dakota National Guard quick response force team from the 815th Engineer Company was scrambled from the Harwood Community Center, with the Soldiers bringing high-wheeled vehicles and other equipment that could be needed in an evacuation. A member of F-M Ambulance embedded with the Guard team came along in case of a medical emergency, as well.

"We brought the assets, such as the vehicles, ladders and waders," Larson said. "We didn't know what we'd all need to get him out."

The crews traveled across several gravel roads where water was streaming across before reaching Tenold's home. The current was flowing quickly into his yard and the road near his mailbox was nearly washed away by late morning. The driveway was invisible under the fast-moving floodwaters.

"You can't find the driveway, but I have a pretty good idea where it is," said Chris Denis, with the Cass County Sheriff's Department.

Leaders had evaluated two routes to the rural home. Neighbors in the area contributed to the groups' response, telling the crews which road was in the best condition. They also warned them to avoid cutting through Tenold's yard, where the ground was very soft under the flowing water.

Denis, Staff Sgt. Luke Christians and Staff Sgt. Matthew Hebl donned hip waders and Denis carefully led the way down where he believed Tenold's driveway would be, prodding the earth in front of the group with a long stick.

Upon reaching the house, they found Tenold was fine, but his pump was failing. Together, Denis and the Guardsmen worked to fix the pump. They also switched it to a separate breaker than his furnace to further guarantee its continued operation.

"That takes a lot off my mind," Tenold said once he heard the pump running again.

"They got that old pump working," he later said, "and if it doesn't give up, I'll be kinda lucky. This is quite an occasion."

Tenold has needed to build dikes seven different times since moving into his house about 35 years ago. In 2009, he needed to be rescued by helicopter when the water came up. Johnson said this year looks as bad out there.

Rather than a helicopter, this year's evacuation came via Cass County's Otter Team, which responded in an airboat, as did the U.S. Coast Guard. Tenold carried his belongings out of his home in a couple of grocery sacks. Once they reached dry land, Larson and Kathy Carbno, with Valley Water Rescue, steadied him as they helped him out of the boat before handing him his cane, removing his life vest, and getting him into a deputy's vehicle.

"I'll be glad when this is all dried up," Tenold said. "I'm never going back there again, except maybe to sell the place."

He was glad to see the National Guard Soldiers and told one of his two-year tour in World War II as a military police officer.

Christians said the response was the first for the Harwood quick response force team, which was established Thursday. The team is on duty 24/7 at the community center to respond to overland flooding, evacuation requests, sandbag levee breaches or any other flood-related emergency. They fall under the Cass County Sheriff's office and take the calls straight from the county's operations center.

Larson called today's response a "cooperative effort," thanks to which "we were able to get the gentleman out safely, and he appreciated it."

"I think we work really well together and draw on each other's strengths," Larson said. "I think there's mutual respect among all of the agencies. Everybody listens to each other's opinions and works together to ensure a successful response to any emergency."

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