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A City Displaced

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“A City Displaced” was the tragic headline in the Fargo Forum on this date in 1997. Residents of Grand Forks were struggling with ravages of the horrific flood that shocked the city and caused emergency evacuations from home and hearth. Both flood and fire had brutally attacked city residents who only hours earlier had been warm, dry and safe.

On page one of the Fargo Forum were photographs highlighting the effects on residents: senior citizens, babies, and even pets displaced by the overflow of the Red River. The Associated Press photos captured the scenes of the evacuated, the terrible damage, and the many rescues.

Congressman Earl Pomeroy was snapped consoling Grand Forks Mayor Pat Owens. Grand Forks firefighters were pictured hip deep in the frigid waters while battling building fires. Even the US Coast Guard was photographed there, offering aid to residents needing help. North Dakota Governor Ed Schafer observed, “I’m just convinced this disaster will be the worst in our history.”

Flooded streets in downtown Grand Forks amid burning buildings added to the dynamic, but all too true headline “Fire adds hell to high water.”

North Dakota’s third largest city was shuttered by the disaster and UND ended the school year three weeks early.

Governor Schafer’s evacuation orders were issued late on a Saturday night. Approximately 21,000 of the approximate 50,000 residents of Grand Forks, were under direct orders to evacuate their homes. Water in the downtown rose six feet as the fire department helped with the evacuations.

High water throughout the Valley caught the attention of President Bill Clinton. Issuing a statement from the White House, he wrote: “Like all Americans, I have applauded the courage and fortitude of the people of North Dakota as they have fought against the rising waters of the Red River. The power of their example has served as a lesson for all. Nature’s strength may have overcome their effort to keep the floodwaters out of Fargo and Grand Forks, but their spirit is clearly unbroken. ... On behalf of all Americans, I want to assure the people of Fargo and Grand Forks that our thoughts and prayers are with them during this difficult time. We will be there to assist not only during the flood, but when the cleanup begins.”

Dakota Datebook by Steve Stark

Sources: The Forum, Sunday April 20, 1997

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