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1997 Red River Flood, Part 6


Don Gonyea is currently the White House correspondent for National Public Radio. You hear his regular reports on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. In April of 1997 he was an NPR correspondent stationed in Detroit. But he also covered other major stories occurring in the Midwest, like the Red River flood of that year.

Don Gonyea actuality: “I flew into Fargo and then drove up to Grand Forks early the next morning. But I remember thinking how much it looked like Mississippi River flooding, that horrible Mississippi River flooding I’d covered a few years earlier down in St. Louis and Illinois, all the way from Galina to Cape Giradeau. When I covered those floods, flying in I remember thinking, wow, I’ll never see anything like this again and sure enough it was just a few years later it was the Red River and North Dakota, and it looked very similar.

Flying into Fargo, hearing about the flood and driving north to Grand Forks was one thing. Experiencing the flood and the downtown fire was something that even the experienced correspondent, Don Gonyea wasn’t quite ready for.

Gonyea actuality: “I remember just being stunned. I picked up the Grand Forks Herald when I landed and they had that amazing almost full page photograph of, I think it was sunrise over the flooded and burned out downtown, and if my memory serves me the headline was something like “Hell and High Water”. And that was such a powerful image and probably at that point the most powerful front page I’d ever seen in any newspaper anywhere. But then when I drove north and actually got to see the downtown, I had to get an escort down in there, as powerful as the images in the newspaper were that day, it just didn’t compare to seeing it in person. I remember just thinking, the flood is a horrible enough thing, but for the fire to follow it was just an awful, awful thing for people to have to deal with.

In addition to witnessing the devastation to the city of Grand Forks, NPR reporter, Don Gonyea remembers the spirit and friendliness of the people. “ North Dakota Nice” shining through even at the height of all the trouble.

Gonyea actuality: “Even those who had been forced out of their homes and who were allowing me to accompany them back into their homes and be with them the first time when they witnessed the flood damage, they were so nice and to a person they seemed to be concerned with my well being as well.”

By Merrill Piepkorn


Don Gonyea interview