MN flood hits farms

BY LARA BRICKER | ROSS, Minn. | June 17, 2002

After inundating the town of Roseau, floodwaters have swamped farm communities to the northwest.

The farm community of Ross -- eight miles away from Roseau -- was especially hard hit, with thousands of acres of crops swamped. Volunteers crews were sandbagging farmhouses and land to try to protect property. Wheat, barley, and bluegrass were the major crops lost. Farmers in that area invest about $100 in each acre they plant. Many report they cannot economically recover from their losses.

More than half of the people in Roseau -- a small community of 2,500 -- were forced from their homes as the largest flood in the town's history submerged most of the community last week.

National Guard troops and volunteers piled sandbags to protect homes and businesses. Water was four to five feet deep in parts of town.

Damage assessments began over the weekend in Roseau.

The Minneapolis division of The Salvation Army was on the scene all week feeding volunteers and evacuated residents. Local Salvation Army volunteers were bused in Friday to relieve those who have been working all week, said Darlene Stansbury, program coordinator at the Grand Forks Salvation Army. Stansbury said more crews are ready to help with cleanup.

Relief officials added that many residents were in a state of shock or denial that their homes may be lost.

Flooding also covered roads and fields in nearby parts of North Dakota and Manitoba. According to the National Weather Service, the Roseau River was just over 23 feet Thursday and they were predicting a crest of 24 feet.

The previous record in Roseau was 21.1 feet, which was set in 1996. The National Weather Service said the Red River was approaching flood stage at Drayton and that water had also covered some rural areas of northeastern North Dakota.

Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura declared the area in a state of emergency last week and sent in the National Guard to help the counties of Roseau, Beltrami, Kittson, Koochiching, Lake of the Woods, Marshall, Pennington, Polk, Red Lake, and Norman. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sent water pumps, engineers, and 80,000 sandbags. While Roseau has been hit by the worst flooding, the rural communities of Ada and Warroad have also seen torrential rains and flooding.

Most volunteer relief organizations in the area are well equipped to deal with the disaster, as they all went through the flooding in 1997 in the Grand Forks area. Those affected by that flooding are now coming forward to help residents in Roseau.

The mayor of East Grand Forks arranged for busloads of people to go up to Roseau and Warraod to help residents there with the flood fight.

One of the most difficult parts of the disaster response at this point has been gaining access to the affected areas. Most of the bridges are under water and those that aren't have been damaged to the point they can't be driven across.

At this point, all involved are waiting for the floodwaters to recede, and expecting a long recovery effort. "Any flood of this magnitude takes forever (to recover from)," said Mason Hollifield, executive director of the Red River Valley chapter of the American Red Cross, which is running shelters for evacuees. "Some of the areas got 10 inches of rain in 24 hours and you just can't recover from that."

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