Swelling to 22 times its normal size, the Red River took whatever was in its path — including 1,500 businesses and 11,000 homes in the town of Grand Forks, ND. One of those businesses was Lunseth’s Plumbing & Heating Co. Forced from their downtown offices by a “wall of water,” Lunseth’s 85 employees continue to work around the clock to get the town up and running.

“Everybody is surviving and attitudes are good,” says William O’Connell, owner of Lunseth. “It’s amazing how congenial everyone gets in the neighborhood when they line up to use the port-a-potties.” With regional cleanup costs pegged as high as $1.75 billion, the 50,000 residents of Grand Forks know they’re going to have to band together if they want to stay, and 90 percent say they do.

To get the job done, O’Connell, forced to abandon his home as flood waters reached three inches from his first floor ceiling, has provided trailers for employees who lost their homes. And during the rising waters, the company sold sewer plugs and offered installation training to those customers they could not reach. “It’s this type of situation where everyone helps each other,” says O’Connell, “and that’s why the cleanup is going better than anticipated.”

This cleanup includes Lunseth’s servicing of the town’s water treatment plant. At deadline, water was flowing at roughly 20-30 parts per million chlorine, with potable water available shortly. “When you’ve been eating Red Cross sandwiches, just to have running water so you can take a shower, even a cold one, is quite a blessing,” says O’Connell.

What’s making the cleanup a bit tricky though, is the fact that 90 percent of the houses in the area have basements, flooded basements, which means everything must be replaced, including the power. “Taking a water heater out now means you must replace all the electrical in the area and that’s what really takes the time,” says O’Connell.

Another concern are the fleecers. To protect the residents from shifty service people, the town has demanded licensing of all techs. Protecting from scavengers is an additional problem that is tougher to regulate. As flood waters recede the town expects to see more of these parasites sifting through residents’ personal belongings. But for O’Connell, who plans to rebuild both his business and his house in the area, his primary worry now is that in three months, he’s going to have to provide the town with heat.