Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Great Flood

Ten years ago, I lived in Grand Forks, ND. It was where I went to college, met my husband, and celebrated our first days as husband and wife. In April of 1997, after 8 major blizzards, 16 days off of school, and an ice storm, we had a flood. It was a doozie.

Our river, the Red, flows north. One of only a few in the world that do (the Nile is another), it often gets caught up due to ice floes that don't melt north of your own town. Since GF is located on the glacial Lake Agassiz plane (in prehistoric times, it was a lake bottom), there is lots and lots of flat land for the water to spread out upon.

Unfortunately, that included our town. In 1997, the river flooded, displacing everyone in the cities of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, MN, including me. I distinctly remember driving through foot-deep water to run back to my in-laws house just before evacuating, after a frantic call from my mother in law, who was convinced she left the iron on. (She didn't.) When we got home, weeks later, their house had 7.5 feet of sewage in the basement. Many homes were completely underwater. A big part of downtown had burned to the ground. Garbage piled 8 feet high lined the berms of every street for months, and we worked our fingers to the bone to scrub and clean and try to salvage what little we could (which wasn't much--flood muck doesn't come off.) Thankfully, no lives were lost. Until Hurricane Katrina, it was the greatest displacement of people there has been in American history. Though it pales in comparison to the devastation of Katrina, it still made a great impact on all those whose lives it touched.

This morning, I was able to hear all about it once again on NPR. If you have time, and an interest, please take a listen, or read more about it here. Grand Forks will always be close to my heart, and it did bring a few tears to my eyes, remembering the fear and uncertainty, and the way they people pulled together and helped each other to survive and to build a better future.

This past year, there was another record-setting crest of the river. But this time, thanks to the work of the people of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, the engineers, the builders, and the new, controversial dike, not one sandbag was necessary.

For the time being, a victory.

Congratulations, Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. We knew you could do it.


samantha said...

Having grown up just across the border, I remember the flood well. Our school even shut down for a few days so we could all go over to GF and help sandbag. And mny weeks after that were spent helping people clean and rebuild.

The sight of entire houses covered by water is something I'll never forget (and that I hope to never see again). But you're right, the way people pulled together was really incredible, and the town is even stronger now for it.

The Bold Soul said...

I absolutely remember seeing the news footage of Grand Forks during those floods and watching the fires burning out of control downtown, although it sure doesn't seem like it was a full 10 years ago. I remembered Grand Forks again a year or so after that when Hurricane Floyd dumped so much water on New Jersey that the town of Bound Brook (which always floods and is once again on the verge from the terrible rains they got this week) had to be half-evacuated into school shelters (I went down and volunteered every day for a solid week), and there were fires in THAT town too, right in the heart of the flooded area. I recall thinking it was a smaller version of Grand Forks.

It's good to hear the recent flooding didn't get out of hand up there in GF, thanks to the efforts they've made in the past 10 years. I hope Bound Brook will fare as well; I drove through that area just last week and noticed how much nicer it looks, how they had really revitalized an area that even before the flood was the "low-rent", heavily immigrant section of a rather nice town overall. It's sad that so often in floods, it's the people who have the least who end up losing it all.

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