Crookston opens up to flood victims

by Lynne Kozarek

As the Red River continues to rise and wreak havoc on towns along the border between Minnesota and the Dakotas, about 3,000 people from the Grand Forks area have been evacuated to nearby Crookston, Minn.
Between 3,000 to 4,000 evacuees from Grand Forks, N.D. and East Grand Forks, Minn. are being housed in nine to 10 shelters, from churches to schools, in the Crookston area.
JoAnn Westburg, senior secretary in Residential Life at the University’s Crookston campus and volunteer for the Red Cross, said the main sanctuary for the displaced is in the city’s new high school, which is still under construction.
“Crookston is a community that has had problems, and we weren’t prepared for this at all,” Westburg said, adding that some evacuees are still housed in temporary shelters.
“It’s like being in a war zone,” Westburg said. “There are helicopters flying overhead and people are in shock and crying.”
The flooding along the Red River is the worst in recorded history. The river has reached crests in excess of 26 feet over flood stage; the water isn’t expected to drop for at least another week. About 60,000 residents of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks were evacuated late last week as emergency dikes began to fall to the Red’s onslaught.
Westburg said hundreds of inexperienced volunteers are learning on the job, but learning quickly.
“We are dealing with some who have been uprooted four to five times this week,” she said, “we just have to tell them, ‘I can’t bring your house back, but I’ll do everything I can to help you.'”
Westburg said the community is eagerly contributing supplies and services to help the flood victims.
Polk County nursing services have collected medications from the victims and is distributing them in the proper dosages to patients. The local mental health center is counseling people who are having problems coping with the shock and loss of the flood.
In what Westburg called a “grand gesture,” the local Rotary Club canceled a fund-raiser breakfast at the high school, instead offering its pancakes free to the evacuees staying there. Rotary members said they could raise money for themselves anytime, but the flood victims need help now, Westburg said.
Maria Miles, a resident of East Grand Forks who was evacuated from the town early Saturday morning, said she was thankful she and her family were alive.
“I’m overwhelmed,” she said. “This catastrophe is immeasurable.”
Before her family was evacuated, Miles was trapped in another part of town, away from her home, her husband and their son. When she attempted to return she couldn’t get back over the bridge.
“It was a shock when I tried to go home and I couldn’t,” Miles said. “We were lucky to be reunited when we left town.”
Miles said that she believes her home is a total loss.
Jack Knopp, an East Grand Forks resident staying at the same shelter as Miles, said he and his family were in shock and disbelief.
“We were really surprised,” Knopp said. “I was in East Grand Forks in 1979 during a bad flood but everything worked out then.”
Knopp, his wife and their five children are staying at Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Crookston and said that everyone helping in the flood relief efforts has been fantastic.
“The people couldn’t be any better,” Knopp said.
Knopp added that he and his family have had several offers from people willing to take the family into their homes.
“I went back to my house and put the baby pictures on top of the refrigerator, got the cat and the dog and took the special toys for the kids,” Knopp said. “I feel fortunate because I have friends who have lost their houses. We’re still hanging in there.”