When you’re staying in an RV by choice, you’re a camper. If you’re living in an RV through other circumstances, you’re a refugee.
At least that’s how many flood victims feel after ending up in campgrounds near Bismarck, N.D., while unable to live in their homes, the Bismarck Tribune reported.
What started out as a stressful situation has ended up being not all bad. Becoming semi-permanent residents of an RV park comes with the camaraderie of being surrounded by your old neighbors, though a sense of stress lingers.
“At first, it was so chaotic, you just really couldn’t talk to anybody, but it’s really become a community over time,” said Bruce Roeder, co-owner of the KOA campground.
Roeder said they have more than 20 sites occupied by flood victims, and while space at the park is tight with all the reservations made over the winter, they’re trying to shuffle some sites to open up more spaces.
The Prairie Breeze RV Park in Menoken also has more than 20 sites occupied by flood victims.
Larry and Margie Stute have been staying at KOA for the past three weeks. It’s been a trying time for the couple. Larry Stute recently had surgery on his foot, making him unable to help in the battle to protect his home or make trips to visit it.
A friend’s been keeping tabs for him, but as he sits on a cooler outside his RV, he said he heard Wednesday (June 15) the water went over the dam he constructed, and his house is now in four feet of water.
“We’re both a little numb. We knew it was forthcoming, but we thought it wouldn’t quite be as soon. We’re both a little oblivious today,” Margie Stute said.
The two know they’ll be at the KOA for a while. It’s accommodating to Larry as Roeder was able to place them within walking distance of the bathrooms and Laundromat.
“Bruce really came through for us,” he said.
Now they need to focus on finding a place for the winter.
Cindy Benjamin is in a similar predicament. She’s got four neighbors from Sandy River Drive living on her block at the KOA. She’s there with her son, two cats and a hamster. Her husband, who is embedded with the military in Afghanistan through U.S. Aid, was home briefly to help move the family but left again Monday.
Benjamin said her family kept their RV in storage, giving them a place to put most of their stuff. They’ve been able to access their house by canoe, and while it’s dry, a snake made its way inside recently.
“It was surreal this morning to be canoeing down Sandy River Drive,” she said.
As for her current digs, “It feels a bit like camping. We’ve had this for a while so it’s familiar and it’s comfortable; we’re just worried about how long it’s going to be.”
Another block over, Cheryl Herman has done what she can to get settled in the RV. She brought most of her plants with her and has planted some new flower beds. Others along the street are using suspended beds to grow tomatoes, and the block is working to start a community garden.
Herman and her fiance ended up in the RV after buying it on-site from a group of transient workers. They moved out, she moved in, the RV stayed in place.
She said they purchased it because they’re hoping at some point to move it onto their lawn while they make any needed repairs to their house.
Still, she expects to be here awhile.
“I feel like I’m living here when I’m home all day long, but at night, when you’re around other people, you feel like you’re camping,” Herman said.
Just across the way, Kora Dockter has just gotten some bad news. The RV they were borrowing has just been sold, and they need to find something new by Saturday. With all the water near their property though, they’ve already decided to stay here through August.
She too, has been able to get to her Fox Island home by boat, giving her a view of what she’s missing.
“The other day there was a beautiful sunset over the water and I thought, that’s why we live here, but we can’t be in our house,” Dockter said.
She’s brought her vegetable garden with her and is distraught at the idea of having to uproot again.
“Lots of people around here are displaced. We feel like refugees,” she said.
Roeder said the Dockters aren’t the only ones to be living in a borrowed RV, something that creates a problem as many of them don’t know how to drive them.
While many RVs sites allow people to drive in and out without putting the large RVs in reverse, Roeder said he’s put many in sites where they have to back in, which is cheaper, but may also require some help in getting the vehicle properly in place.
Roeder said KOA charges half price for month-long stays, so the back-in sites most are staying in run $650 a month. They have not changed their prices due to the flooding and have been offering discounts allowable under KOA, he said. He’s also bought a special tank to empty RV sewers so inexperienced drivers don’t have to move to the dump station.
They’re also about to review the flood victims they have living there monthly. Roeder said he hasn’t seen some of the occupants for days and suspects they may have paid for the site as a back-up plan. He’s trying to track them down to see if he can open it up for those on his waiting list. The park is otherwise full with reservations.
Jen Aberle, owner of Prairie Breeze, said the flood has helped fill the park and they’ve had to use overflow spaces. Their monthly rates range from $345 to $400 with the $3 a day discount they’re giving to flood victims.
“We can’t go out and fill sandbags because we’re too old for that, but we can help out this way,” she said.