- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 15, 2007

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) — Heavy rain and snow still make people nervous along the Red River of the North, which devastated North Dakota’s third-largest city 10 years ago and forced thousands to flee in one of the costliest and largest U.S. flood evacuations before Hurricane Katrina.

Eleven persons died in three states.

Today, however, a nearly finished $400 million dike system brings some comfort, and people think they have learned lessons to share with other disaster victims across the country.

“We like to call ourselves the poster child of flood recovery because we think we showed how different governments working together could make it happen,” said Mayor Lynn Stauss of neighboring East Grand Forks, Minn., who also governed during the flood.

Still, “so many people I talk to yet are still struggling,” said Pat Owens, the mayor of Grand Forks during the 1997 flood.

As the record 101 inches of snow delivered by a winter of blizzards began to melt that spring, the Red River rose out of its banks and spread across the prairie farmland. As the flood crest flowed north on its way to Canada’s Lake Winnipeg, Grand Forks and East Grand Forks were hit the hardest.

Most of the 60,000 residents were forced to flee after a futile fight involving 3.5 million sandbags.

Mr. Stauss recalls the pain of telling an exhausted family that there was no use adding more sandbags around their house to fight the rising water.

“I remember telling them, ‘I’m sorry, you’re going to have to give up. There’s no way you’re going to be able to save your house. It’s done, it’s over,’ ” he said.

Four feet of water in the streets hindered firefighters when flames broke out in downtown Grand Forks on April 19, 1997. Eleven buildings, including 60 apartments, were destroyed.

“There was no downtown left, period,” said Sandra Korsmoe, who lost her advertising business in the downtown Security Building.

The National Climatic Data Center rates the 1997 disaster as the nation’s second-costliest non-hurricane flood disaster from 1980 to 2006, with the 11 deaths in the Dakotas and Minnesota and damage estimated at $4.1 billion. The costliest was the 1993 flood along the Mississippi that started in the upper Midwest, with damage estimated at more than $26 billion.

Damage totaled nearly $2 billion in the greater Grand Forks area. The Federal Emergency Management Agency gave nearly $210 million in public assistance to North Dakota and $173 million to Minnesota to repair infrastructure, plus $9.8 million for travel trailers and mobile homes, and $10 million in individual and family grants. Joan Kroc, the widow of McDonald’s Corp. founder Ray Kroc, gave $15 million to flood victims.

Grand Forks has written a brochure to share with other disaster-stricken areas. It includes advice on planning and leadership. It also says: “Understand that the new normal will never mirror the pre-disaster image.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide