Sandbags

Below is from an email I got from my brother Ben. Since I have a cool website, I figured I’d post it so you can all see how much work went into keeping the Fargo flood at bay.

On Friday, March 20, I officially moved from Fargo with my packed Honda Element. I wasn’t moving because of the forthcoming flood but rather for work. I had been telecommuting for concept3D, but the time had arrived to relocate to the Boulder headquarters.

Fargo flood news became increasingly dire over the weekend and on the following Tuesday I was on a plane heading back to help sandbag. Initially city officials estimated 1.5 million sandbags would be needed to hold back the rising Red River. A week, some rain, and a couple blizzards later volunteers had produced an amazing 3.5 million sandbags to hold back the record flood levels.

That is quite the feat and the numbers don’t need visuals to make an impact. However, since I live, eat, and breath SketchUp I could not help exploring these numbers in my favorite visualization application.

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers an appropriately-filled sandbag measures 4 inches high by 10 inches wide by 16 inches long. The average weight is between 35 and 40 pounds.

For reference, here is one standard-sized sandbag next to concept3D’s resident design guru, Jin Pak.

a jin onebag2 Thats a lot of sand.

A stack of 2000 could be made by placing sandbags 10 wide, 10 deep, and 20 high. It was not uncommon for a line of hard-working volunteer sandbaggers to pass and place this many before taking a break.

b 2000 bags1 Thats a lot of sand.

The real cool figure is three-point-five million. That is the number of sandbags that all ages of volunteers cranked out in just a matter of days. These sandbags were police escorted on flatbed tractor-trailers from the numerous sandbag-making stations to dozens of dikes in the Fargo metro area. Many of these sandbag dikes ended up being taller than 4′ and a half-mile in length or longer.

c 3p5m Thats a lot of sand.


As interesting as that graphic is, I don’t quite feel it does the number of sandbags, or the effort of the volunteers justice. One sandbag placed next to Jin is an easy reference to grasp, but he is a tad out of proportion next to 3.5 million sandbags. In terms of volume, this amount of sandbags is about equal to 432 city buses stacked in a similar shape.

d busses Thats a lot of sand.

That helps to grasp the sheer volume of sandbags produced, but sand is quite heavy. At 35 pounds a piece, 3.5 million sandbags probably weigh more than a pile of city buses. In addition to sand, something else I imagine that is generally accepted as being “heavy” would be an elephant. After some in-depth research (wikipedia) in conjunction with my crazy math skills, I calculated that roughly 288 sandbags would equal the weight of one adult male elephant.

e elephant Thats a lot of sand.

Extrapolating on that equation, 3.5 million sandbags would be equal in weight to a veritable savanna of elephants, roughly 13,000 to be precise. I wonder if an army of elephants could be used in flood fighting?

f elephants 13k Thats a lot of sand.

Before I get too side tracked with my Flood Fighting Elephant Army ™ idea, I will return to Jin and sandbags for one final visualization. If Jin were happen to find himself in New York with 3.5 million sandbags, and then he carefully stacked them end to end to create a sandbag wall that was one sandbag thick around the Empire State Building…

ga jin empire Thats a lot of sand.

… he would create a wall of sandbags that was almost a quarter-mile high (1218′) that nearly contains the entire Empire State Building!

h esb protected copy1 Thats a lot of sand.

After the waters have receded, there is no real comparison or silly visual that can convey the sheer gravity of 3.5 million sandbags produced and placed by an army of volunteers working around the clock. In my few days of sandbagging, I was truly amazed at the will power, preserverence, and strength of the Fargo-Moorhead community. Duties did not need to be researched by committee, no one voted on where to place the sandbags, and everyone performed their part without needing any practice. I stood next to senior citizens in sandbag-passing lines, shoveled sand into bags held by 6 year olds, and ate some amazing food that I wish I knew who cooked up. “Sandbagging” caries a different meaning to me now than it did a couple weeks ago. Amazing job and best wishes Fargo!


Corey Genter


5 thoughts on “Sandbags

  1. Meg

    I am glad you posted this Tim. Crazy. I can not get over all the volunteers that showed up. Reason number 602 why I love ND!

  2. Tim Post author

    Get a better internet. I really don’t know why that would be, I’ve been able to see it on every computer I use. What browser do you use?

  3. Nama Clute

    The creek is running hard! Bring boots and lots of old jeans, coats and sweatshirts. You guys will be working in water and the road will be inpassable with your van. Dad will have to get you in with the pickup. Things are getting pretty crazy around here. Love, mom

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