After being separated for 10 days, the cities of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks were linked together once again on April 28 when the Kennedy Bridge crossing the Red River on U.S. Highway 2 reopened. This unexpectedly turned into a momentous event after numerous residents decided to get in their vehicles and wait for their chance just to be one of the first to cross the newly-opened bridge.
The bridge reopening was a piece of good news among the all the grim at the time. The Red River was continuing to drop, and, consequently, more and more residents of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks were being allowed back into their homes. However, with electricity still severed, water and sewer systems still down, and water still trapped in the basements of the homes in many of the neighborhoods being opened up, residents were only allowed to come back during the daytime hours; they had to return to their temporary homes after dark. What many residents came back to were homes that were, at best, cold and desolate and, at worst, barely recognizable. Although many wanted to assess their damages and begin the long cleanup process right away, this was made complicated by the water remaining in basements. In order to prevent basement walls from collapsing, both Grand Forks and East Grand Forks city officials cautioned against being too quick to pump any water out.
The first rough estimate of property damage in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks came in on April 26, and it was pegged at $775 million. What could not be calculated, however, were the costs resulting in the residents’ loss of family treasures and confidence in themselves and their future.
The spirits of local residents were lifted greatly on April 29, though, when a miraculous gift from an “angel” was announced. A woman who did not wish to be identified pledged to donate $15 million to Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, allowing each household in the two cities to receive $2,000. Only after news media tracked down ownership of the airplane she used to survey flood damage in the area was the incredible philanthropist identified as Joan Kroc, a Minnesota native and widow of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc. She had been in the area working anonymously with the many relief agencies in the area assisting flood victims.
Elsewhere around the Red River Valley at this time, Interstate 29 was slowly being opened between Fargo and the U.S.-Canada border. The stretch from Grand Forks to Fargo, which had been closed for 16 days, reopened on April 27. This was a relief to many motorists who were getting increasingly frustrated with the worsening conditions on the back road that was being used as a detour between the two cities.
After cresting at 54.94 feet in Pembina, ND and St. Vincent, MN on April 26, the Red River was also falling there, meaning that the flood of 1997 was over for people living south of the border. Although this was the highest crest ever seen in the cities of Pembina and St. Vincent, major damages were avoided thanks to the diligent efforts in raising dikes as well as higher crest predictions that ended up not materializing.
Work continued at UND to bring the campus back to a resemblance of normal. Power systems, which had been completely shut off before major flooding occurred, were drying out and being brought back online. Making the decision to turn off electricity before water entered buildings ended up being one of the wisest things done at UND, since electrical equipment that is shut off before getting wet needs only to be completely dried out before being turned back on. On the other hand, electrical equipment that is left on while wet usually needs to be replaced completely and at a great cost.
All residence halls behind Wilkerson Hall were officially opened up on April 29 so that students could retrieve their belongings. Enough resident assistants had returned to allow the check-out process to run smoothly.
Inspections of campus buildings inevitably revealed new, unexpected damages during this time. Elevators, which are normally programmed to go to the lowest level in a building when power to them is shut off, were flooded in many places. Sewer systems, sidewalks, and the electrical, steam, and telecommunications tunnels underneath the campus also showed significant damages.
Check back around April 30 for the next installment in this series.
Videos related to this entry:
An "angel" comes to help the citizens of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks in the form of $2,000 checks.
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Sources used in writing this entry:
Beyond the Flood. Videocassette. Minnesota Broadcasters Association, 1997.
Orvik, Jan, and Dick Larson. The Return of Lake Agassiz: the University of North Dakota and the Flood of 1997. Grand Forks, ND: University of North Dakota, 1998.
Staff of the [Fargo] Forum, comp. Fighting Back: the Blizzards and Flood in the Red River Valley, 1996-97. Fargo, ND: Forum Communications Company, 1997.
Staff of the Grand Forks Herald and Knight-Ridder Newspapers, comp. Come Hell and High Water: the Incredible Story of the 1997 Red River Flood. Grand Forks, ND: Grand Forks Herald, 1997.