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With Floodwaters Ebbing, Long Haul of Sandbags Awaits

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MANDAN, N.D. — Homes alongside the Missouri River here have been guarded for months by millions of sandbags, assembled in an urgent and cooperative effort last spring by the National Guard, local governments, residents and other volunteers. And now, as the floodwaters slowly recede, comes the unglamorous and expensive aftermath of cleaning up after another disaster, but here with a back-breaking twist.

Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

Rod Friesz hoisted dozens of 40-pound sacks of sand out of his pickup truck at a newly designated sandbag dump site in Mandan, N.D.

“At least I don’t have to feel guilty about not going to the gym,” said Rod Friesz, 58, as he hoisted dozens of 40-pound sacks of sand out of his pickup and into the town’s newly designated two-acre sandbag dump.

For Mr. Friesz, a railroad engineer, this was his 20th wearying truckload, with about 30 more to go.

“When it was crisis time, people came in from all over the state to help fill the sandbags,” he said, recalling the supercharged spirit in May when officials warned that record floods were on their way. “But now you hate to ask them to come back and help take it all down,” he said.

In his case, the waters never actually reached the barrier, leaving him with a bittersweet appreciation of his luck. “We were hoping it wouldn’t be necessary,” he said, “and then all this work turned out to be in vain, and now we’re feeling sorry for ourselves.”

Not all the volunteer spirit has disappeared. As Mr. Friesz toiled, a truck pulling a trailerload of sandbags arrived at the dump. Micah Mathison, 18, had enlisted two friends to help him clear bags from his grandparents’ house, and Elmer Schwarz, a retired man who saw their plight, lent his trailer and labor.

Mr. Schwarz estimated that they had removed 3,000 bags from this single house so far, with 4,000 more remaining.

This area of the river, around Bismarck, the capital, is not used to heavy floods, and when the warning came, officials had to scramble to find bags. “We ordered 15 million of them, from all over the country,” said Jeff Heintz, director of public works service operations for Bismarck, across the river from Mandan.

City and county governments in this area expect to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars paying contractors to dispose of all the bags and dirt and as a last step, Mr. Heintz said, to sweep up all the loose sand that will surely spill in the streets.

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