The Heat Is Online

Epic Flooding of Red River -- April, 1997

"Flooding continues in U.S. northern plains"

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - April 26, 1997 -- (Reuter) - Thousands of people remained out of their flooded homes along the Red River Friday, with recovery only just beginning across much of the flood-ravaged northern plains.

The floodwaters slowly receded enough to expose weakened streets in a part of Grand Forks, a city of 50,000 where the rampaging river swept over dikes a week ago and forced nearly the entire population to evacuate.

Tearful residents picked through soaked photo albums and other mementos, gladdened occasionally by the discovery of a surviving pet or other items spared by the contaminated floodwaters.

Residents of the least-damaged areas were allowed to pass National Guard checkpoints for a few hours at a time, but a lack of water or electricity limited what they could do.

Officials warned about using generators to pump out fetid waters too quickly after a few basements collapsed from the weight of soaked soil. There was also a threat to health from the contaminated slime left behind.

Further downtown, the floodwaters remained several feet deep, and some homes and businesses stood gutted by fires that burned unchecked during the height of the flood. The remaining school year has been canceled and the main post office reopened Thursday.

Displaced residents were crowded into private homes and shelters across the region, wondering when or whether to return. Many called into local radio stations to ask about relatives, the status of their homes and how to apply for aid in rebuilding

their residences and lives. No one was known to have died in the Grand Forks flood.

Massive cleanup operations were playing out in riverside towns upstream such as Wahpeton, North Dakota; and Breckenridge and Ada, Minnesota.

President Clinton has requested $788 million in federal flood aid for North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota, a three-state region where record winter snowfall and a rapid spring thaw sent rivers spilling out of their banks.

From Grand Forks to the Canadian border, the fight against the bulging Red River continued in rural towns with sandbags and clay and wooden dikes under mercifully sunny skies.

The town of Pembina on the border was surrounded by floodwaters ahead of the river's expected crest there in a few days.

``Oh yeah, we'll save it if they let us in,'' said one woman volunteer in Pembina. Huge National Guard trucks had to ferry sandbags and people back and forth across flooded roads into the evacuated town of 640.

More than 17,000 people in Manitoba were told to leave their homes and the city of Winnipeg, which was operating under an emergency order, was making frantic preparations to ensure its 630,000 population was safe from the Red River's anticipated

crest around May 5.

Three deaths this week in Manitoba were blamed on the rising floodwaters.

In hard-hit Grand Forks, Mayor Pat Owens tried to downplay a controversy over whether the National Weather Service had failed the city by underestimating the river's crest until it was too late.

Some critics pointed to a higher unofficial projection by academics at the University of North Dakota that was ignored. Ironically, the Weather Service was criticized earlier when it overestimated the crest height in Fargo, which triggered a

frantic sandbagging operation.

Across the river in flooded East Grand Forks, Mayor Lynn Stauss shook his head at the destruction.

``I'm like a mayor without a city,'' Stauss said. ``Get ready, Winnipeg, you can't be too ready.''


"Canadian city loses first home to rising river"

WINNIPEG, Manitoba - April 27, 1998 -- (Reuter) - Armies of residents feverishly threw down sandbags in front of their homes Saturday as the surging Red River swamped its first house in the city of 650,000 people.

Officials said the flooding, caused by quickly melting snow in the northern plains, could be the worst in 145 years.

A house in the southernmost end of Winnipeg was swamped when its owner was unable to build a sandbag dike quickly enough to hold back the spreading water.

The flooding in the province's largest city was the latest result in what experts have called a once-in-500-year flood.

The usually tame Red River of the North swelled to 22 times its normal flow this month as record-breaking winter snows melted. Rivers across the Dakotas and Minnesota spilled out over the countryside and inundated thousand of homes.

The flood has moved north through the river valley along the Minnesota-North Dakota border toward Lake Winnipeg, devastating Grand Forks, North Dakota, a city of 50,000.

Water began trickling out of taps in Grand Forks, Saturday as river levels continued to recede there. Residents hoped it was a sign they would soon have enough water pressure to take a shower, but officials warned the brown liquid was not safe for drinking.

Manitoba government officials said Saturday that waters from the Red had covered more than 500 square miles and some Manitobans have taken to calling the southern part of the province ``the Red Sea.''

Officials in Winnipeg said the resident whose house was swamped had enough time to protect his home, but did not work hard enough to erect the sandbag wall.

``It was just a case of too little, too late by the homeowner,'' city streets and transportation official Bob McDonald said.

Residents of 51 homes in low-lying areas were ordered to leave for higher ground and officals said occupants of 500 other homes had been notified they may also have to leave.

``I got another 500 sandbags last night, but I've been told to evacuate by Sunday,'' south Winnipeg resident Rob Diziak said.

Across the southern part of the western Canadian province, over 17,000 people have been evacuated and several small towns have been swallowed up by the relentless river.

A number of farming communities near the Canada-United States border were deserted Friday after military and civilian crews gave up the fight against the flood.

Flood waters contaminated one town's water reservoir late Friday, forcing residents of Oakbluff, Manitoba, to line up for clean water at a local community hall, town official Don Klassen said.

Battalions of soldiers and 100 bulldozers and graders south of Oakbluff raced against the clock to raise a 15-mile wall of earth by Sunday to protect the southwest part of Winnipeg.

A 29-mile drainage ditch along the eastern edge of Winnipeg, built after two other destructive floods, was expected to protect most of the city. But officials feared that the city's southwest could be vulnerable.

``I feel secure that we're going to be able to withstand the worst part of the damage and things will be fine,'' Manitoba Premier Gary Filmon said after flying over the Red River flood zone.

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien boarded a military helicopter Saturday so he could get a first-hand look at the devastation of two southern Manitoba towns.

Red River floods in 1979 covered 400 square miles of southern Manitoba and a comparable flood in 1950 forced the evacuation of 100,000 Winnipeggers. About 800 square miles may be flooded as the Red River crests this year.

Manitoba flood engineer engineer Larry Whitney said the flooding could be the worst in Winnipeg since 1852.

See Also: "Flood Victims Cheer Clinton's Pledge of Aid," The Washington Post, April 23, 1997.