Friday, March 27, 2009

Flood of memories

I am a native North Dakotan. I grew up in a town of about 8,000 people. That town isn't too far from Grand Forks, where my parents grew up. I had 2 sets of grandparents who lived less than a mile from one another. I spent a lot of time in Grand Forks, which was one reason it was so hard to watch the news in April of 1997. I was pregnant with Garrett at the time and I couldn't do anything to help.

My maternal grandmother's house was just off the Lincoln Park area of the city. Today, if you drive by, there is a sidewalk (the sidewalk where I rode my yellow two-wheeler with the banana seat) and a driveway to nowhere. It's one of the saddest places I've ever been, not only because there is nothing left there of the life she and my grandpa had built, but because of the horrible family relationships that exist where there once was grudging tolerance, if not genuine love or affection. There is no "fun" in the dysfunction in that family.

My paternal grandparents' home was just a few blocks from the river, too. In the past they had seen some flooding, but not on a level like the other grandparents. In 1997 their ranch style home was filled to the basement rafters. Once they got the water pumped out of the basement, they had to clean out 40 years' worth of life -- clothing, books, furniture, photographs ... they were in their 70s and it took a toll on them, as it did on my maternal grandmother.

Fargo wasn't hit as hard, and they did not put the effort or money into protecting the city from another disaster like this that Grand Forks did. Eighty-five percent of Grand Forks homes were flooded. In East Grand Forks, MN, just across the river, ONE HUNDRED PERCENT of homes were affected. The cities worked together to find a solution to a huge and terrifying potential. The city of Grand Forks was harshly criticized for some of its decisions with regard to flood control. Today, while they are concerned in Grand Forks because the level of this river is certainly a reason for concern, they know that the work they've put into their community is going to pay off because it will not be as devastating as 1997.

Fargo, on the other hand, is facing a disaster like the one in Grand Forks twelve years ago. It is scary. Schools are closed, businesses are closed, and people from all over the region (including Grand Forks) are coming to the aid of their neighbors. Roads are closed, bridges are covered with water, the snow keeps falling, the temperatures are well below freezing.

I feel for the people in the communities along the Red River. People losing their homes, homes that in some cases have been in the family for generations. It's horrible. I sincerely hope that the river crest projections are high, that the water will recede, that everyone in the community will be safe, as they were in Grand Forks, where not one person died in the flood.

And I hope that when it's over, when the water recedes, leaving thick black silt so fine it gets into the cracks in everything, silt full of germs and microbes and heaven-only-knows-what-kind-of-filth, when the cleanup starts and the rebuilding of lives begins, that instead of making snide comments or criticizing, the people of Fargo-Moorhead pull together as their neighbors to the north did. That they roll up their shirtsleeves and work toward a lasting protection for their cities. It wasn't easy in Grand Forks. There were a lot of growing pains, and the leaders took a lot of heat for the decisions they made. But the decisions that were made in Grand Forks didn't hurt Fargo. They didn't put Fargo in the position it is in today.

I am disappointed today. I was supposed to drive to my hometown for a week with the boys; a spring break distraction while Rob is in China (he leaves tomorrow). But the roads are bad, the weather is "iffy," as we say up here, and there is only one bridge open between Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. If the water rises too high, I could be sitting in East Grand Forks with 3 kids in my minivan and no choice but to turn around and go home. The only alternative is to drive into South Dakota, then north, adding many miles and hours to an already long journey.

But my disappointment pales in comparison to the thousands of people who are bone cold, exhausted beyond description, and who haven't had a meal from anyplace other than the Red Cross for days, weeks.

They are working to save their homes and communities, their lives and their memories, and it seems at every turn like all the world is against them.

Please keep the people of the Red River Valley in your thoughts as they fight the water and as they recover. Donate blood. Donate money. If you can, grab a bucket, some gloves and some bleach and help in the cleanup.

Twelve years ago I couldn't go help clean up because the health risks were too high for pregnant women.

This year, I can't go because my husband will be overseas and, well, somebody has to be the mommy.

But I want to. And if I can find a way after the floodwaters recede, after Rob is home from China, if somehow I can work it, I will go and help. At the very least I'll send money, or bleach, or toothbrushes, or mops and rubber gloves. I will contribute.

I have seen the changes wrought in Grand Forks in the aftermath of the flood of '97. I know Fargo will come out of this okay in the end.

But I also know the challenges, the pain, the struggles ahead. They are gonna need all the help -- and hope -- they can get.

Please keep them in your thoughts.

1 comment:

  1. Flooding really sucks...after being in IA for both the 93 and 08 versions, I can tell you it's not pretty, and I really didn't even see the worst of it, nor did it directly affect me.

    I hope that F-M can find a way and that the finger pointing is short lived.

    And I'm sorry you're not able to go back home as well, I hope your week goes ok on an alternate plan.