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Memories linger of disaster at East Grand Forks/Grand Forks

USACE St. Paul District
Published Feb. 28, 2017
Aerial photo of the flooded downtowns of Grand Forks, North Dakota, and East Grand Forks, Minnesota, on April 20, 1997. --USACE St. Paul District File Photo

Aerial photo of the flooded downtowns of Grand Forks, North Dakota, and East Grand Forks, Minnesota, on April 20, 1997. --USACE St. Paul District File Photo

President Bill Clinton hosts a press conference in Grand Forks, North Dakota, April 21, 1997, after the city is inundated. --USACE St. Paul District file photo

President Bill Clinton hosts a press conference in Grand Forks, North Dakota, April 21, 1997, after the city is inundated. --USACE St. Paul District file photo

President Bill Clinton hosts a press conference in Grand Forks, North Dakota, April 21, 1997, after the city is inundated. --USACE St. Paul District file photo

President Bill Clinton hosts a press conference in Grand Forks, North Dakota, April 21, 1997, after the city is inundated. --USACE St. Paul District file photo

Floodwaters inundate 4th Street N., downtown Grand Forks, N.D., April 25, 1987. The photo is looking towards Demers Avenue. The second, third and fourth buildings on the left hand side were torn down after the flood.  --USACE St. Paul District file photo

Floodwaters inundate 4th Street N., downtown Grand Forks, N.D., April 25, 1987. The photo is looking towards Demers Avenue. The second, third and fourth buildings on the left hand side were torn down after the flood. --USACE St. Paul District file photo

(first published in Crosscurrents Oct.-Nov. 2007 edition)

The district, the locals, the volunteers –they all put up a tremendous fight, but ultimately the Red River of the North rose too high, too fast.

And although it’s been 20 years since the spring flooding in the Red River Valley destroyed much of Grand Forks, N.D., and East Grand Forks, Minn., the sights, the sounds, the emotions of this event linger for those who were there.

I can still picture those breaches like it was yesterday,” said Neil Schwanz, a geo-tech engineer. “I can picture myself standing [there], watching all this happen.”

Preparations for the spring flooding began well in advance. The National Weather Service put out a forecast several weeks earlier than usually scheduled at the request of the district and local officials. In it, they indicated flooding to exceed historic levels could be expected.

“Right from the get go, the first flood forecast was for significant flooding,” said Jay Bushy, who worked for the Grand Forks engineering department in 1997. He now works for the district at the Western Area Office.

“The advance measures were actually deployed at least a month before the flood,” he said. “The Corps was helping us get ready for the fight, getting us better prepared.”

By late March, based on National Weather Service forecasts, the measures included protecting Grand Forks up to a 49-foot crest with three feet of freeboard as added insurance. The district opened an emergency operations center in the East Grand Forks City Hall. Darrell Morey, engineering, served as the subarea engineer there under Tim Bertschi, the area engineer. Bertschi worked out of a Corps’ EOC opened in Fargo, N.D., about 81 miles south of Grand Forks, a city also facing severe flooding.

By April 4, the Corps had its advance measure contracts in place in both Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. The ground had just begun to thaw, and a contractor began opening up a borrow pit that morning to begin digging up the material needed to build levees, when a massive blizzard struck the region and work came to a standstill. The backhoes froze in the pit, said Lisa Hedin, formerly of project management. In 1997, she served as a subarea engineer for Grand Forks and reported to Morey.

This blizzard, named Hannah, brought freezing rain and nearly seven more inches of snow to an already inundated valley, as well as extreme temperatures and bitter winds. In and of itself, Hannah was a huge disaster. She shut everything down, including flood fighting, for around four days.

Corps’ employees working in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks were stuck without power and without food in their hotel. “All you could do was sit in your room. Everything was frozen,” said Hedin. “Some people went back to their rooms, and there was snow blowing in down there by their air conditioners.

“I ended up calling a restaurant … across the parking lot. And I have no idea why, but they had a couple of staff people who had managed to get there,” she continued. “They agreed to feed us. And because we were Corps’ people with nothing else to do, we organized all the people in the hotel, making lists of what everybody wanted to eat and coming back with a big sandwich order.”

An estimated 300,000 residents across the valley also lost power,1 including Mark Krenelka, a Grand Forks resident who now works at the district’s Western Area Office as a construction representative. “We lost power for three days. We ended up burning wood in the fireplace, trying to stay warm,” he said. “For the people in the rural area, they were without power for even longer.”

The blizzard proved to be the last opportunity for Corps’ employees to rest for a long time. As soon as Hannah let up, flood fighting began in earnest.

“It was just so fast after that,” said Hedin. “It started moving from advance measures and transitioned into emergency operations as the predictions were continuing to go up based on more snow.” In Grand Forks, because of Hannah, the plan changed to add three feet, building levees with three feet of freeboard for up to a 52-foot crest.

At that point, it became a 24-hour operation with most of the flood fighters working 12- to 15-hours-a-day, and sometimes more. And where levees couldn’t be built any higher, volunteers placed sandbags.

“But then it began to get warm,” said Hedin, “and the water was just coming like crazy, and there was still a lot to go.”

Schwanz served as the sub area engineer in East Grand Forks – across the river from Hedin. He said the first problem they encountered occurred Thursday, April 17, when they discovered cracks in the Lincoln Drive floodwall on the Grand Forks side of the river. He went there to assist Hedin, and they decided to plug the cracks with burlap sandbags, while volunteers added more height to the wall with sandbags. They finished this around one or two in the morning; but by daybreak the next day, water was running down the street and into the Lincoln Park neighborhood.

“That’s kind of the day all hell broke loose,” said Schwanz.

Ironically, most remember Friday, April 18, for also being a beautiful, warm spring day.

Hedin was back in her hotel room that morning, trying to obtain a few hours of sleep after spending most of the night fixing the Lincoln Drive cracks, when she heard the city sirens go off. She immediately reported back to the city’s EOC, located in the basement of the Grand Forks Police Department. City Attorney Harold Swanson, who Hedin didn’t know then, approached her with the Yellow Pages in hand, asking her what she needed.

“I didn’t have the faintest idea then what was going on, really,” she said. “The storm sewers were letting go, and little spots in the levee were letting go, and we just needed equipment in all these different places.” Swanson began calling everyone in the Yellow Pages, she said, trying to locate people with Bobcats® to help her.

“I mean they talk about the levees breaking and what really happened, in my mind, in my memory, is that the water got so high, it just came over the natural ground at this point,” she said. “And then, once it got around that floodwall, it just ate away at that corner …[the water] just ran down the hill [behind the floodwall], and it was running into Lincoln.”

The Corps and the city decided to build a secondary dike in the neighborhood, down the alley between Belmont and Reeves and to essentially abandon Lincoln Park, she said. Additionally, the city then began mandatory evacuations for that neighborhood.

Across the river, Schwanz and Kurt Reppe, real estate, were still raising levees and overseeing sandbagging on The Point in East Grand Forks. Reppe had finished all his real estate work for advance measures and had volunteered to help Schwanz with construction oversight. It was around 1 p.m., April 18, when one of the levees broke on the backside and water started flooding The Point.

“It was rising just as fast as we could get the people out,” said Reppe. “Then, the city came in with fire trucks and the [Army National] Guard came in and hauled out the people.”

Schwanz remembered trying to plug the hole with contractor R.J. Zavoral and Sons. “At one point, we had four dozers with their blades side-by-side, trying to hold back some of the water, while an excavator would be picking up sandbags,” he said. “As soon as we would get one area closed, another would break.”

By around 7 p.m., the neighborhood was lost. The Guard airlifted Schwanz and Reppe out via helicopter. Another Corps’ employee, Mark Meyers, lost his government rental vehicle there to floodwaters. All three relocated to the downtown area, where sandbagging was still underway.

Bushy, as a Grand Forks city employee, had spent the day in Lincoln Park neighborhood, fighting the flood. Across the raging river, though, he had a wife, a four-month old daughter and a home on The Point. “I was spent – mentally spent, physically spent. I wanted to go and see my wife and my daughter. I hadn’t seen them in a few days,” he said. “On my way to The Point, I got as close to the bridge as I could until I had to stop. They were losing The Point at that time, and I couldn’t go any further.”

He said he remembered receiving a phone call from his wife when their home was about to go under, demanding that he come home. “I said I just couldn’t,” he said. “She got real mad at me and hung up.”

His wife and daughter evacuated to his parents’ home, located on one of the highest elevations of The Point, and stayed there until the sewer lines began to back up. His wife and daughter ended up evacuating that day via helicopter, followed shortly thereafter by his parents. It would be at least another week before Bushy could reunite with his family. In the meantime, he went back to work, assisting the Corps and its contractors with building a levee in the Elmwood area.

That same afternoon, boils developed in the Riverside neighborhood of Grand Forks. “They were starting to have places where the water pressure was high – it didn’t have a lot of freeboard, but the levee was holding – but they had so much pressure because the differential was so high,” said Hedin. “It was finding small seams in the ground, and it was pushing up behind them.”

Kent Hokens, engineering, made the discovery. He came back to the EOC, said Hedin, and explained that there were far too many to fight. “We told those guys who were working in this area to get off the levee and get back to Gateway Drive,” she said. It was about 7 p.m. when the city ordered a mandatory evacuation of this area.

Krenelka lived in the Riverside neighborhood then, near the Riverside Pool. His home featured a fully-finished walkout basement, so he and his family had moved all their belongings to the main level of their home in anticipation of flooding.

They evacuated in the wee hours of the morning when they first heard the city sirens go off. “We turned on the radio and got the word to evacuate,” he said, “Then it was scrambling, trying to decide ‘where are we going’ and ‘how do we get there’ and ‘what do we take with us.’”

“What we heard was that the river had risen fast and that it was coming over the dikes in Grand Forks, coming over the levees,” he continued. “If you wanted to cross the river to Minnesota, you better get on the road and start heading north fast…”

They ended up packing as much as they could and caravanning up Interstate 29 with his brother-in-law and sister-in-law and all of their family members. They crossed over to Minnesota at Pembina and went to Thief River Falls where his mother-in-law lived, and all 12 of them greeted her at the front door. “We all packed into my mother-in-law’s house and that’s where we stayed,” he said, “glued to the TV.”

While Riverside was being abandoned, the Corps’ flood fighters began to loose trucks bringing up borrow from the south end of town. “We were having problems where neighbors were high jacking trucks. I mean they weren’t physically assaulting the drivers –but they knew the drivers. They lived there. This was their community,” said Hedin. “And they were getting them [the truckers] to come into their neighborhoods, and they were building spot levees.

“So I was having our poor little intern engineers, who didn’t know a soul in this community, trying to go down there and keep our trucks going to where they needed to go,” she added.

Plus, the temporary dike being built near Lincoln Park had to be abandoned. “They couldn’t stay ahead of it,” she said. “I think it had to be four or five blocks long to tie in …, and they couldn’t raise it a tenth of a foot in an hour. It was washing out.

“Lincoln Park was full. It was starting to come out the back side,” she continued. “Again, it was just coming over the ground.”

Around 8 p.m., water flowed through this hole towards downtown. Hedin, in the city EOC at the time, took a phone call from Scott Hennen, the local radio talk show host, wanting to know what was going on. “He was essentially asking, ‘Are we going to lose this flood fight?,’” she said. “I sort of knew, but I hadn’t even told myself that we had lost – yet.

“I was just way too young, and I was way too scared to be that person being quoted as saying, ‘It’s over. Get out of town,’” she continued. “I was on hold, and Ken Vein [the city engineer] was on the telephone, on the other side of the room.

“We looked at each other, and the police chief had come in, the fire chief had come in, and water was in the streets around the EOC,” she said. “Ken [Vein] was just sitting …, just sitting. ‘We’re getting out. Everybody’s getting out,’ [he said.] We all just knew what that meant.

“He talked to Scott Hennen and said, ‘It’s time to go,’” she continued. “People just started swooping stuff off their desks.”

Grand Forks relocated its EOC to the western side of town, on the second floor of the University of North Dakota’s public works building. While they evacuated, the Red flowed west, moving closer to the English Coulee Diversion Channel, located along the western edge of Grand Forks, filling in the city as it went.

At their new location, Hedin said North Dakota State Water Commission employee Todd Santos suggested building a levee up South Washington Street, which runs up the middle of Grand Forks to the railroad tracks. The intent, said Hedin, was to keep the Red on the east side of the city and prevent it from joining the English Coulee and flooding all of Grand Forks.

“The city of Grand Forks had this mountain – in any city of North Dakota, it would have looked like a mountain – of crushed, recycled concrete,” said Hedin. “It was just sitting there out on Highway 2, just across from Airport Road.”

Hedin put the contractors to work, dumping this recycled concrete into the flowing water. The idea worked. Bushy’s in-laws lived on the west side of Grand Forks, he said, and the dike protected them.

Another place the flood fighters saved included the Grand Forks hospital. A team was sent there to build a ring levee around the building. “Since they didn’t have access to any material,” said Hedin, “they began digging up the parking lot.”

Francis Schanilec, a Grand Forks resident, worked for the Omaha District at Grand Forks Air Force Base in 1997. He has since retired from the St. Paul District. He recalled evacuating his home with the water following him as he went. “It was coming up out of the drains onto the streets,” he said, “and the streets were getting flooded as I was driving away.”

All along, he said, he had not been anticipating a disastrous flood. “I didn’t really do a lot [to prepare] ‘till the day before we had to evacuate,” he said. “My sister said, ‘Did you get all the stuff out of the basement?’ I said, ‘Well no, ‘cause, I don’t think it’s going to flood.’

“The next day, [Thursday], I ended up taking everything out of the basement, and I’m glad I did, ‘cause I had eight feet of water in the basement,” he continued.

Schanilec and his family went to Bismarck, N.D., where his sister lived. From there, they wound up in a small town near Grand Forks, where they were allowed to stay in a parish house, enabling him to get back and forth to work. They would not move back into their home for around 30 days.

Across the river, events were happening just as fast. After the breach on The Point, Schwanz spotted water seeping from under the Highway 2 Bridge. In this location, the levee ran under the bridge, but there wasn’t enough room to get equipment in there to place earth fill on top of it. They had raised the levee with sandbags. With this breach, said Schwanz, it was inevitable that the low-laying areas of the city would flood.

“There were people still sandbagging at various points,” he said. “They hadn’t heard the sirens to get out, so we had to blow the sirens another time.

“At that point, it would have been too dangerous to try and go under the bridge,” he explained. “Those sandbags, the way they were, it wouldn’t have taken too much for another section to blowout. People would have been hurt.”

Around 10 p.m., April 18, they initiated a backup plan that included building a ring around the downtown area in an attempt to save some of the businesses. “The water was rising so quickly that we had to stop,” said Reppe. “I am guessing it was between midnight and two in the morning. Finally, we didn’t have a choice. We didn’t want to lose people.”

The Corps’ employees in East Grand Forks then evacuated to Crookston, Minn., almost leaving Schwanz behind. Having been awake for almost two days, he laid down in the police department for a few minutes of rest.

“There was a period of time where I couldn’t stay awake anymore, and I laid down in one of the jail cells,” he said. “I remember Marsha Gilliland, [formerly of operations], waking me up [to evacuate].

“Then it was quite calm,” he said. “Of course, there was water all over, and the power was out.”

By 4 a.m., Saturday morning, April 19, all of East Grand Forks, including its downtown, had flooded.

An hour later, downtown Grand Forks had four feet of water in it.2 About twelve hours later, fire broke out on North Third Street. In four more hours, the fire spread three blocks.

Marilyn Noss, Grand Forks resident who now works for the district at the Western Area Office, lived at the time on the south end of Grand Forks near Red River High School. She evacuated when the fires broke out.

She and her then husband had woken up that morning to the sound of sirens and spent most the day moving items to the second floor of their split-level home. They waited until the last minute, she said, because they had been dealing with another family emergency up until that time.

She described what she saw as they left. “You just saw all these choppers flying around and a lot of National Guard vehicles,” she said. “It was kind of surreal. You kind of almost felt like you were in a little bit of a war zone.”

Noss evacuated safely to her father’s farm west of the city. The flood waters only made it partway up their driveway, but they still lost their lower level. What happened, she said, is the city shut off the power because of the fires, and without the pumps pumping, water backed up into their ground floor. And because it was fully finished, it needed to be gutted after the water receded.

Reppe, too, witnessed the fires – but from a distance, from the other side of the river. “We were sitting on the outskirts of East Grand Forks, watching it burn,” he said. “There was nothing anybody could do.”

He said fire trucks were put on top of National Guard flatbeds, and they used river water to try and put it out. When that didn’t work, planes were used to drop a chemical retardant on the flames. The fire fighters weren’t able to put the flames out until Sunday afternoon, and, in the meantime, 11 buildings, many historic, were lost.

It took another two days, until Tuesday, April 22, for the Red to crest, which it did at a record stage of 54.35 feet, 5.4 feet over the previous flood of record. While the flood fighters waited for the water to recede, they caught up on paperwork and began to brainstorm about recovery.

Hedin said she went out with the National Guard at the time of the crest to see whether the levee was still standing and to see how long it was going to take to get back on-line. The Guard was searching for people left in the city, she said. They found about six people in apartments who hadn’t left and didn’t want to evacuate.

“We were driving around in this sand truck, and there was three or four feet of water on the street. It was washing directly up to people’s homes, so you’d try and drive in such a way that you didn’t create a wake,” she said. “It was just so odd to be driving through the streets with all that water, with nobody else moving around and everything quiet.”

On the other side of the river, Reppe took a similar tour but in a boat. “I can’t even explain how emotional it was,” he said, “you had some of those older homes, two story homes in some of those lower areas. We were in a boat on top of one of them, the house was totally submerged. Houses were moved off their foundations, half a block away.”

The hotel where the Corps’ employees were staying at flooded. Those on the Grand Forks side moved to a location closer to Highway 2. And although the new hotel didn’t have power, the National Guard hooked up generators fairly quickly. “We didn’t have water, so the hotel had this line of 15 port-o-potties out in the parking lot, and you had a water bottle to bring back from the EOC to brush your teeth,” said Hedin.

Additionally, no one lost their belonging. The hotel staff was “fabulous,” she said. “They hadn’t even left themselves yet, but they had gone into a bunch of people’s rooms with big, black garbage bags and dumped all their stuff into it or in their suitcase, and they’d written the room numbers on the bags.”

The National Guard ferried over the luggage of those that were stranded on the East Grand Forks side of the river via helicopter. Schwanz hitched a ride back and forth to gather all the belongings.

Eventually, when it was possible to cross the river again, a block of rooms opened up in Crookston. “The thing was, you never knew who was staying there. You never had your stuff in the right place, and you never knew if you’d get it back again,” said Hedin. “That was kind of chaotic.”

The tragedy, not surprisingly, drew the attention of the press. Bertschi said there was almost as many national reporters as there were local. “It was interesting to see,” he said. They kept looking for the Red River Valley. They couldn’t really understand how small the [river] bed is normally.

“You had to really educate them every time you talked to them,” he continued. “They would come up with their helicopters and such and were just amazed.

“The cities in the area cosponsored a daily press conference, and the Corps participated. It really helped get the Corps’ story out and minimized the time they [the reporters] took up,” he said. “It was 35 phone calls you didn’t have to deal with. But the national guys didn’t like that. They all wanted their own little piece.”

In fact, it was on TV that Krenelka first saw his neighborhood. “You could see that the water was very high,” he said. “Our neighbor across the street to the east of us, the water in their house was up to the roofline. You could see that it was high in our house.

“When they showed that on TV, my wife just broke down and started crying,” he continued. “Up until that point, you think, maybe we are going to be okay, things will be fine.” It would still be a few weeks before Krenelka could be allowed to inspect his home.

When he did get the opportunity, he determined there had been 18 inches of water on the main floor and the lower level had been totally flooded. “Our furniture was saturated. The water had gone up in the furniture,” he said. “Everything else, the carpet, was just covered with about an inch of mud – greasy, slimy river mud.”

As the waters receded, the looters and the politicians began to arrive. Although most agreed that the National Guard did a good job at preventing looting, they were unable to keep out the politicians. The president, the vice president, the Federal Emergency Management Agency director, the local Congressional delegation and more all arrived within days.

“With the president’s visit and the vice president’s visit, it took three or four people, three or four days to deal with it,” said Bertschi. “The local Congressional delegation, because it’s a small state, they just walk in your office and ask you how everything is going and then walk out. The big guys were fairly high maintenance.”

The residents, on the other hand, were not allowed back in for days or weeks, depending on the amount of damage in their neighborhood. “You had to go through a checkpoint with the guard and show them your ID to prove where you lived, so they could tell you if you could go back in or not,” said Noss.

And at first, since there wasn’t any power or water, she explained, “they just wanted you to go in and look.” Initially Noss took out a few things, she said, as well as started pumping water out of her home. Then, the basement needed to be gutted before she could move back in.

Krenelka also gutted his basement shortly after being allowed back in. “Everyone was cautioned not to try and clean and maintain a lot of the stuff, because there were a lot of bacteria in that river water,” he said. “If you started to hang on to stuff, once the weather warmed up, you were going to end up with mold problems … The best thing to do to deal with it was to throw it away.

“You could just go down the street and see block after block of piles and piles of household goods,” he said. “The piles were six or seven feet tall in front of every single house from people going in there and cleaning out their basements and taking out all the destroyed furniture, clothes and everything else that was ruined…”

“After we got all that stuff out, then we were told to start gutting the basement, rip out the sheet-rock right down to the studs, take up any carpeting, anything that was soaked with water,” he continued. “The thing was to get a company in there to start pressure washing. If you had a forced air system and your duct work was filled with river mud, then you had to get somebody in there to clean out your duct work …Everybody’s electrical panel was ruined. Everybody’s furnace was destroyed, so were their water heaters – anybody who had their utilities downstairs.”

As it turned out, Krenelka’s home was more than 50 percent damaged, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, would not let him rebuild in a floodplain. His flood insurance paid off his mortgage, and the city paid him the balance between what was left on the mortgage and the resale value of the home, allowing him to make a down payment on a new home.

But even if he had rebuilt, he added, the new flood levee built by the Corps goes right through the lot where his house once stood.

Financially, the flood hurt. “We went from having between seven to 11 years left on our mortgage to taking out a 30-year mortgage,” he said. “That put us way back to square one.

“Emotionally, it was tough, because we lost all of our contents,” he added. “Fortunately, most of our pictures and things like that we had up on a shelf in a closet, so those were out of the water.”

Bushy also lost his home.

About a week after the crest and having worked many, many hours for more than three weeks without a break, his employer, the city, ordered him to go find his family and get some rest. He said he spent a few days with his wife and daughter and then a few more days with his parents, but he spent most of the time sleeping.

“They couldn’t believe how much weight I’d lost,” said Bushy. “I looked like a scrawny runt.”

When he arrived back in town, he didn’t have a place to live. Although he didn’t have a basement, flood waters damaged the first floor of his home. Since he was a city employee, FEMA put him up at the Holiday Inn for around six weeks.

He spent his days working on recovery, doing damage assessments and such, and the nights cleaning up his home. Although his home did not suffer more than 50 percent damage, he was still not allowed to obtain a building permit to rebuild. His property was to be located on the wet side of the Corps’ future flood levee. He and his wife and daughter ended up moving in with his in-laws for about a year.

Bushy used his flood insurance to pay off his mortgage and sold his property to the city. This allowed him to purchase a new lot and build a new home. His brother- and sister-in-law eventually purchased his home and moved it to a new lot. “So, it’s still in the family,” he said.

“All my wife and I wanted was to break even, and we did,” he said. “With our situation, in our house, the flood was probably a blessing in disguise. We had flood insurance. We were eventually going to outgrow that house … Trying to sell it would have been an issue with flood insurance.”

Once the water had receded and city officials felt safe, most of the Corps’ flood fighters went home for a rest. The majority eventually returned, either to assist with recovery or begin work on a flood control project to protect both cities from future similar events.

The district ended up assisting FEMA with five recovery missions to include debris removal, demolition, temporary housing, storm sewer cleaning and structural evaluations, spending about $21 million of appropriated federal recovery dollars.3

When it was all said and done, the flooding caused more than $3.6 billion in damage to Grand Forks and East Grand Forks.4 More than 50,000 residents of these two cities had to be evacuated, and more than 11,000 homes and businesses were destroyed in Grand Forks. Only around 27 homes and businesses in East Grand Forks escaped without damage.5

Plans had already been in the works for an East Grand Forks flood control project; but the city hadn’t liked the levee’s footprint, and the plans had been shelved. Since the project was still authorized, it was essentially immediately revived and Grand Forks was added to the scope of the project. Within weeks, people wanted to know where the levees would be, said Hedin.

Ironically, the levees today look very similar to the ones East Grand Forks initially rejected.

The official FEMA recovery missions ended later that fall, but it took much longer for those involved to recover.

“When I came back here [to the district office], there was almost nobody here, and I called down to Bob Post’s [then chief of engineering] office, and he was in, and I asked him if I could talk to him,” she said. “I went in there and just burst into tears … He was very kind and compassionate and told me it wasn’t my fault.

“My single job was to keep the flood waters from this town,” said Hedin, “and I felt like I’d failed.

“It did take a while to get over,” she continued. “It helped on a lot of levels to be involved in the project afterwards.”

The following year, an ice storm occurred in April. Noss said she had “a strange and nervous feeling,” and she wasn’t the only one. “A couple of other people that I worked with … were feeling the same edginess,” she explained. “Like: are we going to have to go through this again?”

“It’s a comfort knowing that we are almost to that point [where the flood control project is complete],” she said. “Every year you get a little more comfort level – especially since last year, with the flood that we did have, and knowing how well things did work.”

In the spring of 2007, 10 years from the flood that almost destroyed them, the cities commemorated the event, as well as celebrated the completion of a $400 million Corps’ flood control project.


1 Ryan Bakken, Come Hell and High Water (Grand Forks, N.D.: Grand Forks Herald, Inc., of Knight-Ridder, Inc.), 14.

2 Ibid, 38.

3 Peter Verstegen, “Red River recovery mission nearly completed,” Crosscurrents, October 1997, 1.

4 U.S. Department of Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Weather Service, Service Assessment and Hydraulic Analysis: Red River of the North 1997 Floods (Silver Springs, Maryland: August 1998), preface.

5 Ryan Bakken, Come Hell and High Water, 28 and 70.