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Relief effort continues into third year

BY GEORGE PIPER | GRAND FORKS, N.D. | March 26, 1999

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (March 26, 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 is planned 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 one thousand homes, businesses and farms. In the

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

sustained water damage.

Local disaster relief agencies also are keeping an eye on potential

flooding forecasts for this Spring. Early National Weather Service

forecasts of a river crest of 49 feet -- dangerously approaching the

50-foot dikes protecting much of Grand Forks -- were scaled back this week

to 43-feet by April 2.

But even the suggestion of possible flooding has relief personnel like

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

equipment stored in a Fargo warehouse that was used during the '97 disaster.

"Right now we're sitting pretty comfortably," Buchhop said. "I admit I had

panic in my heart, but (the projected flooding) seems manageable this year."

Meanwhile, 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


LDR tentatively plans to close its case management work in May and pull out

of Grand Forks the next month, said Buchhop. The organization will continue

to help survivors locate resources for their needs up until that time.

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.

Posted March 26, 1999

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