Christmas celebrations sign of ND recovery

BY GEORGE PIPER | GRAND FORKS, N.D. | December 18, 1998


GRAND FORKS, N.D. (Dec. 18, 1998) -- Christmas promises to be more of a

private celebration this year in Grand Forks, N.D., as flood survivors

slowly reclaim homesteads lost or damaged by spring 1997 flooding that

soaked the Dakotas and western Minnesota.

Last year, Lutheran Disaster Response helped area residents celebrate the

season in the wake of the record floods. This year, however, despite the

need for building materials and construction workers, life is getting back

to normal in the Red River Valley.

Joan Buchhop, LDR's site manager for flood recovery in Grand Forks, said after

losing her Christmas decorations to the flood and not feeling in much of a

holiday mood in 1997, she is ready to raise the tree along with her

neighbors in the Upper Midwest.

"We're all in different stages of recovery, but at the same time, we've

recovered faster than most people anticipated," she said. "We're a lot

smarter than we were before. Having gone through that experience, you gain

knowledge and wisdom for the next time."

Statistics from the spring 1997 floods in the Upper Midwest look like a

Guinness Book of World Records entry: 8,600 homes and 1,616 apartments

damaged or destroyed; 60,000 tons of debris; 3.5 million sandbags; $800

million in federal financial aid through September.

About 90 percent of the affected resident are well on their way to recovery

or completely recovered estimates Nina Martin of the United Methodist

Church-related Upper Midwest Recovery. The 10 percent who are struggling mainly

do so from lack of people to rebuild their properties, Martin added.

At least 83 homes -- including some major rebuilding efforts -- have been

completed with the assistance of The Valley Interfaith Coalition To

Recovery Of the Upper Red River Valley (VICTORY) a coalition of local

churches and national

relief organizations working throughout North Dakota and Minnesota

headquartered in Grand Forks. But the organization's election

campaign-like talk of being around for four more years is hardly political

when you consider the estimated 1,100 homes on its to-do list.

"We've got quite a bit of construction to do," said Terry Tuinder,

VICTORY's executive director, adding that volunteer work team commitments

extend through the fall of 1999.

The organization disbursed $1.3 million -- and is averaging $50,000 per week

for the past eight weeks -- on building materials and furniture and tallied

74,000 volunteer hours through the end of November. As long as the money

and commitment is there, Tuinder figures VICTORY can continue the recovery

as long as it takes.

Temporary housing set up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency closed

in August, and it appears everyone has found some type of housing for at

least in interim basis. But while the floodwaters have subsided, a high

tide of anger and frustration remains for those who feel the recovery is

going slow.

"People are waiting for contractors or people depending on volunteers are

frustrated because they have moved on to other disasters," Martin said.

With a shortage of skilled building workers, homeowners split time between

their full time jobs and working on their house themselves, which leaves

them tired, noted Martin. It makes for a stressful situation in an area of

the country where people tend to roll with the punches, but Martin added

that residents are holding their own.

Even 18 months after the flooding, residents still deal with moldy

basements. Besides raising health concerns, homes that used the basement

for a family room or guest bedroom are waiting longer to reuse that space

because the aid available covers only essential living space.

"With (relief) money, you look at essential living space, and rooms like

that don't fit the criteria," said Nina Martin of Upper Midwest Recovery.

"People's homes are not finished the way they were (before the flood), but

because it's not something they can't live without, it doesn't become a

priority."

Both faith-based and governmental agencies enjoyed a good working

relationship, noted Buchhop. In Grand Forks, the city provided money via

community block grant funds for disbursement by faith-based relief

organizations that did case management.

"It pushed all of use beyond our comfort zones to work with new agencies in

new ways," she said. "It opened our eyes to the way that can work

together."

Buchhop expects LDR to shut down the 1997 flood's recovery efforts in the

next six to nine months. But rural flooding in 1998 and potential flooding

caused by high water tables may stretch the recovery period in some areas,

and North Dakota's emergency management office told the relief

organizations not to let their guard down.

"There's still going to be more to be done even when we're gone, but for

now we're still in there pitching," she said.

Posted December 18, 1998


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