Long road ahead for victims of flood

During springtime every year, the flooding of river valleys is not unusual. But this spring’s flood along the Red River is clearly a phenomenon. Rising to an unprecedented level of 54 feet last Friday, the Red deluged East Grand Forks, Minn., Grand Forks, N.D., and other towns along the border, forcing thousands of people to abandon their homes and make do with temporary shelters. Responsive people in dry areas can send food, water and personal items to their washed-out neighbors, but flood victims must deal with the uphill battle of rebuilding their homes and lives.
For the past few weeks, the story about the unfolding of this natural disaster has led television newscasts and dominated newspapers. River valley residents and volunteers were shown working long hours — often around the clock — packing sandbags, reinforcing dikes, manning pumps and tracking the water level. Some households paid $10,000 to build dikes around their yard and install water pumps in their basement. Unfortunately, these laudable efforts to contain the Red largely proved futile. In the end, the river outdid the crest predictions of the National Weather Service and broke through the man-made barriers of river valley communities like Breckenridge, Halstad and East Grand Forks.
Grand Forks, the third largest North Dakotan city, was no less spared. The Red consumed 75 percent of the city, leaving homes and businesses in mucky flood water. Six buildings went up in smoke after a fire broke out in the downtown business district. About 40,000 residents are now left without homes and, in many cases, jobs. It will take at least two weeks before they can leave the shelters and begin reconstructing their community, which one official estimates could cost more than $1 billion.
In retrospect, it’s clear that Red River Valley residents were unprepared for the river’s strength. Some have no flood insurance. Others went from deluged homes to makeshift shelters with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. They left behind cars, trucks, furniture, large appliances and pets in their rush to escape the flood. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, American Red Cross, Salvation Army and private donors, as well as hundreds of volunteers, are providing assistance to flood victims. The Minnesota Legislature has designated millions of dollars for flood relief, and the federal government is preparing to offer disaster funds.
Flood victims, however, will bear the burden of dealing with the shock and painful memories. Currently, the Red Cross and local mental health centers are counseling thousands of disheartened adults and scared children who can barely cope with the devastation of the flood. Their confinement to shelters will aggravate the situation. The Red crested in Grand Forks on Monday, but it will take weeks to recede and months to reconstruct the inundated communities. No lives were lost in the flood, and buildings, homes, bridges and roads can be replaced. But people’s spirit and hope certainly dimmed after their properties were destroyed. Ahead of them is the grueling battle of clean-up, rebuilding and recovery. For flood victims, the loss and grief are very real and will linger long after onlookers lose interest and news coverage fades.