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Flood anniversary finds many still working on recovery

BY CHUCK GOLDBERG | NORTH DAKOTA | May 4, 1998

NORTH DAKOTA (May 4, 1998) -- One year after the worst flood in the history of the Minnesota-North Dakota

region, homes are still under repair and hundreds of people are still

displaced. Yet, a host of faith-based agencies continue to work thousands

of hours to restore a sense of normalcy.

The spring of 1997 brought above-average rainfall, plus run-off from a

record-breaking number of blizzards, causing the Red River to crest at 54

feet above flood level in some areas. The Red River Valley Basin flows

north into Canada, mainly along the western Minnesota and eastern North

Dakota borders. Many towns were affected, primarily Grand Forks and Fargo,

ND, as well as East Grand Forks, Breckenridge and Ada, MN.

Some 50,000 were evacuated, and destruction was widespread. In East Grand

Forks, MN, more than 400 people are still displaced, while others live in

their extensively damaged homes.

More than 100,000 were lost from the floods, according to the USDA, and

350,000 cattle were lost in South Dakota due to the blizzards alone,

according to Melanie Josephson, Lutheran Disaster Response statewide

coordinator for Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota. Only 55 percent of

cattle ranchers had catastrophic insurance. Nearly 120,000 acres of prime

farmland were flooded, which will mean a loss of more than $10 million in

crop revenue, according to the USDA. More than one million acres in South

Dakota were underwater at one time, said Josephson.

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, both government and disaster

Response Organizations provided emergency funding and care. But as time passes,

and their mandate expires, government and secular agencies have left.

Consequently, a host of faith-based agencies have joined forces to provide

long-term recovery assistance. An interfaith organization was launched

called Valley Interfaith Coalition Toward Recovery (VICTORY), a coalition

of local churches and national relief agenceis that works with R.A.F.T.,

(Resource Agency Flood Team). Helping on both sides of the Red River,

VICTORY involves rural outreach, replacement of furniture, appliances, and

more. They do much of the preliminary evaluating of need and provide

referrals to the other organizations still there. So far they have helped

house 6,000 volunteers, and rebuilding will continue.

Working with VICTORY is the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee

(CRWRC), which works with church volunteers in the Grand Forks region.

Throughout the summer they are scheduling skilled volunteer teams of 15 to

20 people for three-week segments.

R.A.F.T. members include Catholic Family Services, Lutheran Disaster

Relief, the Salvation Army, and United Methodist Committee Relief. Each

agency has case managers who work with families seeking assistance. The

process often begins with the United Way and is passed on to the case

managers, as they work to meet medical, legal, spiritual, mental, and

health needs.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is funding a livestock program for those

who suffered significant livestock losses. The "One Good Cow Program" is

working to deliver 80,000 cows to ranchers in the Dakotas. Other involved faith-based Response Organizations include, the Church of the Brethren, Mennonite Disaster Services, and Church World Service.

Thousands of volunteers from across America continue ministering to victims

from all walks of life. In Granite Falls, Minn., a Sioux Native American

reservation was hard hit. The Minnesota Council of Churches provided

assistance grants and sent in volunteers, according to Josephson. They

also ministered to migrant workers who faced shortages of housing and work,

helping them find employment. In Lecenter, Minn., outreach teams knocked

on doors in a hard-hit Hispanic community, networking them with recovery

resources.

Those elderly unfamiliar with available resources, or too intimidated to

seek help, were made aware of their options and walked through the

application process, if necessary. Some, disbelieving theywould actually

receive help, wound up with tears of joy in their eyes at their rehabbed

homes, said Jerry Orr, regional coordinator of United Methodist Recovery

Relief in Grand Forks.

"It is such a joy to see the pleasure and excitement on people's faces,

especially when they're not totally convinced it would happen," said Orr.

"But we're a long way from being through here. We'll be busy for a long

time to come."

Posted May 4, 1998


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