"ACT OF GOD"
FEBRUARY 21, 1997
Grand Forks, ND, has been the source of incredible stories involving destruction and heart-ache. A 500-year flood forced almost all of the city's 50,000 residents to evacute, and fires gutted a number of downtown buildings over the weekend. Flooding also hit Grand Forks' sister city, East Grand Forks, MN. Community leaders, though, praised the spirit of the flood's victims and vowed to rebuild the city. After this background report by Fred de Sam Lazaro of KTCA-Minneapolis/St. Paul, Jim Lehrer leads a discussion of the flooding and efforts to rebuild the area.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO, KTCA-St. Paul/Minneapolis: Warm temperatures are normally welcomed in this land of long winters, but today, they only hastened the torrent of melting snow that inundated Grand Forks, North Dakota and sister city, East Grand Forks, Minnesota. The Red River, which separates the two cities, is expected to crest sometime in the next day at nearly double its flood stage. Over the weekend downtown Grand Forks was battered by fires; they raged unchecked because the water was too deep for fire trucks to navigate. The cause is still unknown; officials suspect broken gas lines ignited. Eleven office buildings were gutted.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
April 21, 1997:
Jim Lehrer leads a discussion of the flooding of Grand Forks, ND.
April 11, 1997:
Fred de Sam Lazaro reports in the flooding in the Upper Great Plains.
Browse the Online NewsHour's enviromental and weather coverage.
Grand Forks Herald
MAYOR PAT OWENS, Grand Forks, North Dakota: It's almost a war zone. It's unbelievable to see the magnitude of the damage done to the two cities--Grand Forks and East Grand Forks.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The drinking water in Grand Forks is contaminated, and the city's sewer system has collapsed.
SPOKESMAN: They were supposed to have evacuated the entire downtown. I can't believe this gentleman's still here, but he's signaling us to go around to the other side of the building.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: A mandatory evacuation is in effect for 90 percent of the city's 50,000 residents. National Guard troops said they would arrest those who refuse to leave their homes, something which Mayor Pat Owens says places their lives in danger.
MAYOR PAT OWENS: The water is cold and if you go in and walk or fall in that water, three or four minutes and you will have hypothermia, and we don't want anybody hurt during this time. And we have still to this date been very fortunate. There have been no deaths, and that is what we are trying to accomplish.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Emergency shelters house many of those who fled the city, including 2,000 at Grand Forks air force base some fourteen miles West.
PATRICIA GLINAS: See, I was on pure, dry land. I didn't think it was going to affect me at all. And then the dike broke, and it just came at us. It was like a tidal wave. I've never seen nothin' like it before in my life.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: What's the mood like here?
ELEANOR STROTHMAN, American Red Cross: I think considering the circumstances that people are surprisingly upbeat. I've listened to some of our mental health professionals describe the situation, and I'd say that that may be because of the--they're relieved to be out of their month of sandbagging and worrying and so forth, and still a little bit in shock, and this is kind of a novelty, like camping out. Eventually, reality will settle in, and what happened to them was, was just terrible.
MAYOR PAT OWENS: I did get to visit one of the shelters out at the air base last night. I had a hard time because one of the people in there was telling me she was really excited about going home and so forth, and her building is one of the buildings that burned downtown. I did not have the heart to tell her that her home is not there any longer.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Patients at Grand Forks's only hospital have been moved to medical centers as far away as Minneapolis and Iowa; schools and stores are closed, as are large segments of Interstate 29, the major North-South route in the area. The bridge connecting Pembina, North Dakota, and Canada washed out, closing the busiest border crossing between Seattle and Detroit.
Across the river, the entire town of East Grand Forks, Minnesota is flooded and residents have been forced to leave. Two weeks ago, a blizzard hit the Grand Forks area, adding to record amounts of snow leftover from last winter. That snow has now melted and is contributing to the flooding. So far, there have been no deaths or serious injuries.
Still, officials say the river will likely remain at record levels for at least another week, and they estimate it could be three weeks or longer before Grand Forks will have clean water and a working sewer system. President Clinton will visit Grand Forks air force base tomorrow.