RED RIVER FLOODING AND NATIONAL SERVICE… A spate of winter storms in the Fargo, ND/Moorhead, MN area have threatened homes and businesses as the Red River rises and increases the potential for a catastrophic flood. Thousands of volunteers reinforced dikes and levees, raising the floodwall level to roughly 43 feet, and many communities already submerged have been evacuated. On Friday the water level in the river rose to a level approaching 41 feet, with cresting expected in the next 48 hours. But this morning, freezing temperatures have slowed the rise of the river, as snow has not melted, and the National Weather Service cautiously announced that the river crested at a lower level than predicted. This is positive news suggesting that the levees will hold, but the situation remains dangerous, with more storms in the forecast for next week and the water level still at a record high.

In his weekly radio address, President Obama expressed his support for those affected by the flooding, citing his disaster declarations for North Dakota and Minnesota, the FEMA response and the US Army Corps of Engineers support in coordinating the building of makeshift levees. It’s good to see this kind of coordination and attention in the midst of the emergency, not after it.

In addition, the President also connected the situation to the theme of national service that Steve discussed yesterday.

For at moments like these, we are reminded of the power of nature to disrupt lives and endanger communities. But we are also reminded of the power of individuals to make a difference.

In the Fargodome, thousands of people gathered not to watch a football game or a rodeo, but to fill sandbags. Volunteers filled 2.5 million of them in just five days, working against the clock, day and night, with tired arms and aching backs. Others braved freezing temperatures, gusting winds, and falling snow to build levees along the river’s banks to help protect against waters that have exceeded record levels.

College students have traveled by the busload from nearby campuses to lend a hand during their spring breaks. Students from local high schools asked if they could take time to participate. Young people have turned social networks into community networks, coordinating with one another online to figure out how best to help.

In the face of an incredible challenge, the people of these communities have rallied in support of one another. And their service isn’t just inspirational – it’s integral to our response.

It’s also a reminder of what we can achieve when Americans come together to serve their communities. All across the nation, there are men, women and young people who have answered that call, and millions of other who would like to. Whether it’s helping to reduce the energy we use, cleaning up a neighborhood park, tutoring in a local school, or volunteering in countless other ways, individual citizens can make a big difference.

This is the tradition of national service that conservative commentators have likened to Hitler Youth. This is the call to sacrifice that Chuck Todd doesn’t seem to understand because it doesn’t involve cutting Social Security or Medicare benefits. Obama’s support of national service represents a continuum throughout his campaign and his public life, that we have a responsibility to one another, that we can do our part for change as neighbors and fellow citizens. I would ask those naysayers on the right if they asked the residents of these communities in North Dakota and Minnesota their opinion.

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