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Recovery continues after 1997 flood

BY GEORGE PIPER | GRAND FORKS, N.D. | April 5, 1999

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (April 5, 1999) -- Like the thousands of other 1997 flood

survivors living along the banks of the Red River, Joan Buchhop is ready to

take a break from the flood.

But as Lutheran Disaster Response site manager for the disaster relief

agency's recovery efforts, Buchhop must wait a few more months before

returning to being "just Joan."

No official commemoration was held on April 19 to mark the second year of

one of the worst floods in U.S. history. On that date in 1997, the Red River

along the North Dakota-Minnesota border rose to 54 feet, easily topping

dikes and wiping out more than 1,000 homes, businesses and farms. In the

cities of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, more than 95 percent of homes

sustained water damage.

In April, residents and local officials watched the river with

concern as the river rose within feet of the top of some of the dikes and

in Grand Forks, special dike-walking assignments were made by the

Police Department to insure problems with earthen dikes were spotted

quickly.

Across the river in East Grand Forks, MN, city officials raised several

dikes and closed low-lying storm drains.

But even the suggestion of possible flooding had relief personnel like

Buchhop ready. She was prepared to call in generators, pumps and cleanup

equipment stored in a Fargo warehouse that was used during the 1997 disaster.

Many faith-based disaster relief

organizations are preparing to wind down recovery operations within the

next year. This summer promises a strong construction drive as open

caseloads reach completion.

LDR personnel have handled nearly 1,100 cases since the recovery began,

noted Buchhop. And The Valley Interfaith Coalition To Recovery Of the Upper

Red River Valley (VICTORY) has opened more than 1,200 cases, including a

fresh batch of rural families resulting from a mailing to areas outside of

Grand Forks, said Terry Tuinder, VICTORY's executive director.

Volunteers have worked some 289,000 hours through the efforts of VICTORY, LDR,

the United Methodist Committee on Relief's Upper Midwest Recovery project

and the Salvation Army. That doesn't include a small army of volunteers

scheduled to arrive later this spring from the Christian Reformed World

Relief Committee and Christian Public Service.

VICTORY has awarded $3.3 million to date, most of it for construction and

rebuilding needs. Tuinder said another $550,000 may be available if he can get

matching funds, so he continues to write grants.

Damage to basement walls and cracked foundations will be the focus of the

bulk of VICTORY's continuing construction efforts -- projected to last through

Oct. 15 with the CRWRC crews.

Even new cases report these serious situations. Tuinder says some recent

cases represent people who have just given up hope of making repairs

themselves and are finally turning to the organization for help. "Some

people don't know what to do even after two years," he said. "They just

don't know what to do and they just sit there."

Tuinder says progress is also being made in rural areas. When recovery

first began, VICTORY and other groups contacted some 2,000 rural residents

and received

about 70 need responses. Most of those consisted of small items. A recent

mailing and local public service announcements netted 50 responses -- all but

a couple of them reporting major damage to walls and foundations.

Tuinder expects VICTORY to be in operation at least one more year,

depending upon the funding and availability of volunteer labor to help with

needs.

The faith-based construction phase focuses primarily on essential living

space. Survivors who used basement areas for spare bedrooms or family rooms

likely will not get assistance for those projects.

"That part remains undone and probably will remain undone," Buchhop said.

"That's part of the cost of the flood."

But the overall recovery has progressed faster than expected -- about two

years ahead of schedule. Buchhop is confident local agencies, including the

Salvation Army, will be able to handle any new or leftover needs after the

national groups leave town.

It is not clear what future mental health assistance flood survivors will

need. Short tempers are common as people are disillusioned or angered by

the disaster, Buchhop said. The region is known for relying upon one

another, but that's something that may take a few years to return while the

community is mired in the recovery mode.

"Right now the city is certainly burned out in terms of reaching out and

helping the neighbors," she said.

Updated June 21, 1999


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