North Dakota After Action Report - Historical Perspective
By Douglas C. Friez, State Director
North Dakota Emergency Management
and Kathleen Donahue, Operations Planner
North Dakota Emergency Management
First came winter, the most brutal in recent memory. Then came spring, and with it, the worst flooding in North Dakotaís 108-year history.
From one disaster to the next, North Dakota emergency workers faced their greatest challenge to date during the winter and spring of 1997. A series of paralyzing blizzards impacted every North Dakotan, testing even the most stalwart of citizens. Blizzards, earning such nicknames as hard-hearted Hannah, isolated rural families for weeks and snapped telephone poles like toothpicks, leaving thousands without power. Wind chills periodically dropped to 50 below and 80 below. Heavy, wet snow neared or exceeded 100 inches in Bismarck, Fargo, Grand Forks and Jamestown.
Then, in spring, winterís record-level snow melted on lands already too saturated from previous years of flooding. Water flowed out of river banks and rushed overland, forcing more than 50,000 North Dakotans from their homes and causing more than two billion dollars in damages. The Red River of the North became the stateís most notorious river, flooding 2,200 square miles in North Dakota and Minnesota, an area twice the size of Rhode Island. In its pathway were cities like Grand Forks, where residents fought hard for months to keep flood waters out of their communities and homes. And yet, despite the best of efforts, dikes collapsed as flood waters exceeded forecasted levels. In the end, water swamped 75 percent of Grand Forks, forever altering the communityís way of life.
The flood left images that will remain part of our collective conscious in years to come - rescue workers airlifting stranded North Dakotans from swift flood waters; rows of cots at shelters for thousands of evacuees; and firefighters lugging heavy equipment through waist-high, ice-cold water to fight flames that destroyed 11 historic buildings in downtown Grand Forks. As Major General Keith Bjerke, the State Coordinating Officer for the disaster would later say, "This is clearly the worst disaster in our stateís history in terms of anxiety, pain and dollar loss."
Both disasters claimed 17 lives. Snow-clogged roads delayed rescue of stranded motorists and prevented ambulances from responding to those in need. Carbon monoxide poisoning became a leading cause of death as people operated generators and water pumps that were not properly ventilated. Road washouts also took their toll as accident victims drowned. The fact that no life was lost during evacuations of neighborhoods and cities attests to the level of preparedness by local responders.
At a time when so many lost so much, the stateís 640,000 residents demonstrated why North Dakota is just one big community spread across 70,665 square miles. People who lost everything helped their neighbors downstream fight the flood waters that had destroyed their homes. North Dakota communities opened their hearts and their homes to flood evacuees, hosting dinners, talent shows and fund drives. The nation also came to the aid of North Dakota, providing more than 2 million meals and support from 50,000 relief agencies, volunteers, and warehouses full of donated food, clothing and supplies.
Both disasters required a comprehensive, cohesive response that tested the state and local Emergency Operations Plans, as well as the flexibility and durability of local, state, federal, private and volunteer partners. These partnersí successes and suggestions for improvement will enhance North Dakotaís response to future disaster and offer emergency management workers in other states valuable insight into lessons learned during these two disasters.
This is the story of how the two disasters, blizzards and the ensuing flooding, unfolded.
A Winter from Hell
North Dakota earns its reputation for hardy winters and hardy people. As Harold Narum, Deputy Director of North Dakota Emergency Management, said, "Our residents are accustomed to winter. They prepare for it, cope with it, and some even look forward to the season." The winter of 1996-97, however, tested the resilience of every North Dakotan. A series of winter storms resulted in record cold, record snowfall and record hardship. Nine people would lose their lives.
Winter came early to North Dakota, starting innocuously enough. Early snowfall in late October 1996 blanketed grazing fields, forcing farmers and ranchers to begin feeding livestock six weeks earlier than normal. Snow also prevented farmers from harvesting late-season crops. In November and December, three blizzards blasted through the state causing limited damages, but temporarily disrupting lives. The North Dakota State Emergency Operations Plan (SEOP) was implemented to support response activities to winter emergencies.
The National Weather Service (NWS) recorded a fourth blizzard on January 4-5 in southeastern North Dakota. Again, life was temporarily disrupted. However, it wasnít until January 9, 1997, that the entire state felt the full fury of winter. A fifth blizzard roared into the state with heavy snowfall, high winds and dangerously cold temperatures that paralyzed the state for four days. Cumulative snowfall amounts across the state ranged from 13 to 65 inches.
North Dakota Emergency Management issued its first snow disaster Situation Report on January 10 describing the severe conditions. Excessive snow isolated many rural families, some for what would be as long as three weeks. The snowfall had blocked state, county, city and township roads, restricting access to emergency services and delivery of heating fuels. Even if they could receive the propane, the cost had doubled, posing another hardship for low-income users. North Dakotaís two interstates closed for four days, leaving truckers and motorists stranded at truck stops and struggling to find available hotel space. Railway service was also disrupted because of snowdrifts that blocked tracks. Grocery stores ran low on supplies, and farmers dumped in excess of $9,000 worth of milk each day because of blocked roads. Farmers and ranchers, unable to supply feed and water to their livestock, began to experience livestock losses. Public officials and private citizens coped with problems created by broken water lines and structural damage to private and public buildings.
Throughout the four days and during subsequent blizzards, rescuers placed their own lives on the line to help stranded motorists caught in snowdrifts and in life-threatening cold. Snowmobile club members and private citizens joined law enforcement in these rescues.
For five North Dakotans, rescue came too late. The first of five deaths was reported on January 11 as wind chills dropped to 60 to 80 below. A second death occurred on January 12 after a stranded motorist died from exposure. On January 14, North Dakota Emergency Management received three more death reports. A Foster County motorist had died from exposure, and two deaths occurred in Logan County when snowdrifts hampered ambulances in reaching farm homes near Streeter and Fredonia.
Those stranded individuals who were fortunate to find shelter suffered from exposure and hypothermia. Even those who appeared to be safe and secure in their homes sustained injury. Approximately 25 Mandan area residents were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning because snow- and ice-blocked vents prevented adequate air circulation.
The magnitude of the disaster was such that Governor Schafer declared a snow disaster on January 11 and requested that the President issue a disaster declaration for the state. The next day, President Clinton responded with Presidential Major Disaster Declaration, FEMA-1157-DR-ND.
At the first report of problems, local, state and federal emergency workers stepped into action immediately. Governor Schafer expanded activities from State Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to respond to local government requests for assistance with snow removal efforts and fuel emergencies. The Governor also ordered the N.D. National Guard to help local governments and the N.D. Department of Transportation (State DOT) with snow removal efforts. In addition, he asked Dan Glickman, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary, to approve appropriate agri-industry assistance programs. Within a few days of receiving the request, the USDA approved the Emergency Feed Grain Donation Program. The N.D. Department of Agriculture conducted the first Agriculture Snow Emergency Task Force on January 14 to address farmersí and ranchersí needs.
The State EOC was staffed around the clock by state and National Guard employees as they addressed the logistics of transporting snow-removal equipment from larger cities to rural areas. Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officers (EPLOs) representing the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force reported to the State EOC to support these disaster operations. As National Guard Brigadier General Harvey Haakenson told an EOC staff coping with numerous concerns, "Weíve got to win all these little battles to win the war."
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also responded by dispatching its first team of disaster workers from the Region VIII office in Denver to temporary quarters at Fraine Barracks in Bismarck. Staff from FEMA and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) began making arrangements to visit North Dakotaís four Indian reservations.
FEMAís snow removal policy came under review for its applicability to the blizzards that not only impacted North Dakota, but South Dakota as well. Representatives of North Dakota Emergency Management and the State DOT met in Pierre, S.D., with officials from South Dakota and FEMA to review that policy. The original policy allowed reimbursement for work to clear roads the width of their roadbeds. That policy met the needs of southern and eastern states where storm conditions quickly subsided, but not for the northern upper plains states where winter conditions are prolonged and wind gusts would easily blow snow onto snow cuts on the roadway, again blocking the road. In order to prevent such road closures, snow removal crews in North Dakota and South Dakota had to push back the snow from the sides of the roadway. The policy was revised to allow reimbursement for push back of snow.
Snow removal and recovery efforts received a setback on January 15 when drifting snow from a sixth blizzard forced a second closure of the interstate, state, county, township, and city road systems. This blizzard also claimed the life of a sixth person, a Rolette County man who suffered from hypothermia. Icy conditions caused a series of traffic accidents and vehicle rollovers in Morton County. Approximately 20 people were injured.
While most activities came to a halt, some events simply couldnít be postponed. A snow plow operator cleared the path for an ambulance transporting a pregnant LaMoure County woman. Her child was born 20 minutes after her arrival at a Jamestown hospital.
The day after the blizzard, crews from the Grand Forks and Minot Air Force Bases and private contractors joined the National Guard, the State DOT and local workers in around-the-clock snow removal efforts. Some crews worked in open cabs, their faces wrapped like mummies and barely visible. An average of 210 Air and Army Guard personnel were on duty each day during the height of "Operation Snowball," the name given by the National Guard to its snow removal support efforts.
Concerns continued to mount for livestock and dairy producers. A State Department of Agriculture survey indicated up to 500,000 pounds of milk had been dumped between January 10 and January 19. The North Dakota Stockmenís Association issued a report that hard winter conditions placed 100,000 cattle at risk of dying.
On January 20, the State EOC received a report that the winter storms claimed their seventh victim, a Barnes County man who suffered a heart attack while shoveling snow. That same day, the south side of the North Dakota Winter Show building in Valley City collapsed under the weight of snow, causing an estimated $1 million-plus in damages.
Just as North Dakotans were digging out from the latest storm, a seventh blizzard entered the state on January 22, bringing wind chills of 40 to 60 below. The Highway Patrol closed I-94 and I-29 for approximately 24 hours. Two Pembina County workers became stranded on their way home from work. One spent the night in her car until she was located by a Walsh County snow plow operator. The other found shelter with friends in Hamilton. A school bus with 10 children was also caught in the storm. A Sheridan County farmer used a tractor to dislodge the bus from a snowdrift.
North Dakota remained in the grips of an Arctic front for the next several days. Severe temperatures caused the city of Elginís water tank to fail and required many schools to cancel classes for the ninth time. These repeated cancellations concerned educators and others since schools typically allow two or three storm days in their schedules. Governor Schafer notified superintendents and other school officials that the school closing policy would remain in effect. That policy established such parameters as two make-up days and one forgiven day for three days missed, and five make-up days and five forgiven days for 10 days missed. "My top priority is the safety of our children, but we cannot lose sight of the fact that children go to school to learn," the Governor wrote to school superintendents.
While state disaster response work continued at the State EOC, a joint State/Federal Disaster Field Office (DFO) opened in Bismarck on January 24, staffed by more than 30 state and federal disaster recovery workers. Governor Schafer and the Federal Coordinating Officer (FCO) signed the FEMA-State Agreement, outlining how the recovery would be managed. North Dakota Emergency Management staff members worked with their county counterparts and fellow state responders to provide resources that best met the needs of local governments. Representatives of North Dakota Emergency Management, State DOT and FEMA conducted applicant briefings for local agencies throughout the state. They explained the snow removal policy and eligibility for reimbursement.
By January 27, DOT road crews had cleared all state highways of snow and had begun widening cuts and pushing back snow. National Guard and Air Force crews had completed 22 missions and had another 29 underway. Workers at the State Emergency Operations Center (EOC) estimated that 1,685 pieces of snow removal equipment were in use throughout North Dakota.
Despite the progress, the winter continued to take its toll on human life. On January 29, the State EOC received reports that two Cass County residents had died after suffering heart attacks while shoveling snow. Storm-related deaths now totaled nine. Injuries also increased as a Sioux County motorist became stranded. He was wearing a light jacket and did not have gloves. He walked 1‡ miles and suffered severe frostbite before finding help. Another man in McHenry County also suffered severe frostbite after his vehicle slid into a snowdrift. Suffering by disaster victims was not always physical. Calls to the hotline operated by the Mental Health Association in North Dakota began to escalate. Volunteers and staff members counseled rural residents whose personal and mental health problems seemed intensified by the adverse weather conditions and prolonged confinement.
For isolated North Dakotans, rescue and relief efforts continued to take place weeks after the early January blizzard had blocked access to their homes. In one instance, a snow blower crew from Minot Air Force Base was diverted from work in Dickey County to help with a rescue mission nearly 90 miles away in Richland County. The crew cleared the way for a fuel delivery truck to reach a stranded family running dangerously low on fuel supplies. Volunteer agencies continued their relief efforts. The American Red Cross delivered a truckload of blankets and cold weather gear to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, and the Salvation Army delivered 87 cases of donated meat to the reservationís food pantry.
Deep snow cover and harsh winter conditions also created problems for North Dakotaís wildlife. In search of food sources, deer began to feed on livestock supplies, which already were in high demand. Deer depredation cost the N.D. Game and Fish Department $600,000 for replacement of livestock supplies.
Agriculture, state and federal officials discussed the full extent of livestock losses when the USDA Deputy Secretary visited North Dakota on January 31. Agriculture statistics showed up to 9,000 livestock deaths had occurred, and losses were estimated at $32.7 million. The Deputy Secretary announced the development of the Foundation Livestock Relief Program to provide assistance for producers affected by the storms.
That same day, Governor Schafer announced that the incident period for FEMA-1157-DR-ND began on January 3 and ended January 31. Such designation meant snow removal work that occurred during that time frame would be eligible for federal and state reimbursement. The NWS also shared its findings on winter conditions. The agency reported that the past three-month period was the third coldest three-month period on record for North Dakota. The average temperature was +8.5 F.
Storm-related problems continued throughout late January and early February. The State EOC also continued to receive reports of buildings collapsing under the weight of snow, including a quonset building housing Ramsey County Highway Department equipment. That cave-in caused an estimated $80,000 in damages to the building and its contents.
Clearing roadways so all North Dakotans had emergency access remained a priority for snow removal crews. A February 1 Situation Report issued by North Dakota Emergency Management indicated that homes still without access included: one in Sioux County; four in Grant County; 20 in Stutsman County; three in Dickey County; four in LaMoure County; and 10 percent of rural residents in Barnes County.
Ice storms and slippery conditions compounded snow removal work. Freezing rain added a layer of ice over hardened snow cuts, causing vehicles to slide off roadways. A late January storm caused one bus filled with children to slide off a Nelson County road. The passengers, who had been enroute to a sports event, were taken to a nearby shelter for the night. On February 2, two people received minor injuries when a DC-9 aircraft spun around and skidded off a slippery runway during landing at Grand Forks International Airport.
Military, state and local snow removal crews continued to make progress. By February 4, snow removal work had been completed at Fort Berthold and Turtle Mountain Indian Reservations and 13 northwest and western counties. U.S. Air Force snow blower crews and their equipment had returned to Minot and Grand Forks Air Force Bases. The National Guard and Air Force crews had completed 52 snow removal missions and 21 were underway. State DOT and contractor crews worked to clear snow from medians on four-lane highways and to push back drifts on two-lane highways. National Guard crews had logged 3,272 personnel days between January 13 and February 4.
Meanwhile, 20 teams of state and federal Public Assistance inspectors participated in training on developing Damage Survey Reports (DSRs). These DSRs detailed costs and scope of work for eligible snow removal projects. By February 6, the inspectors were in the field, working from the Bismarck Disaster Field Office or satellite offices in Minot, Devils Lake and Valley City.
As snow removal efforts continued to progress, the National Guard ended its 24-hour staffing of the State EOC on February 10. The State DOT extended its use of contractors in the Valley City District through February 15 as contractor crews also worked for the Grand Forks and Fargo Districts to assist State DOT crews in pushing back snow.
Efforts to secure federal assistance also continued. Governor Schafer requested and received a Governorís Certification from the Small Business Administration (SBA) for low-interest loans for businesses that suffered economic losses because of the disaster. The SBA designated 49 counties as disaster loan areas. Four southwest counties, Billings, Bowman, Golden Valley and Slope, were not included in the declaration. The Governor also asked the USDA Secretary for a Secretarial Disaster Declaration for structural and production losses. Secretary Glickman designated 26 North Dakota counties as primary disaster areas and 18 counties as contiguous disaster counties.
Local and state agencies kept close track of mounting expenses. As example, by February 13, the National Guard had recorded nearly $1 million in snow removal costs that included equipment and personnel expenses. Five of the 11 North Dakota University System schools anticipated exceeding their utility budgets by a total of more than $500,000. Nine of the universities had either exceeded snow removal budgets or recorded unexpected expenses, such as overtime, vehicle and snow-hauling costs.
While snow removal took place throughout the state, the State Hazard Mitigation Team identified ways to prevent or minimize damages from future winter storms. Their ideas included living and artificial snow fences. The team, comprised of seven state agencies, submitted a Notice of Intent to participate in the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP). This program, authorized by the Robert T. Stafford Act for implementation during a presidentially-declared disaster, provides matching grants to local and state governments for hazard mitigation measures. However, on February 15, North Dakota Emergency Management was notified that its Notice of Interest was denied by FEMA.
The National Guard concluded its extensive snow removal efforts on February 20 after dozer crews completed work in four counties, Barnes, Griggs, LaMoure and Stutsman. Reports later indicated that a total of 510 soldiers and airmen were placed on State Active Duty to support Operation Snowball. Cumulative personnel days reached 5,520 days, making Operation Snowball the largest state activation of National Guard members in the history of the state. Crews provided assistance in 21 counties: Adams, Barnes, Cass, Dickey, Eddy, Emmons, Foster, Grant, Griggs, Kidder, LaMoure, Logan, McIntosh, Nelson, Pembina, Ransom, Richland, Sargent, Sioux, Stutsman and Walsh counties.
As equipment was transported to the National Guardís organizational maintenance shops, the focus of soldiersí efforts shifted toward maintenance and repair of equipment. The National Guard used full-tracked dozers, snow blowers, graders, front-end loaders, dump trucks and support vehicles. With maintenance, personnel and fuel expenses, snow removal efforts cost the North Dakota National Guard nearly $1.3 million.
Response to the disaster cost the State DOT approximately $3.7 million for snow removal work. Of that amount, approximately $2 million was spent to hire contractors to assist with operations. The remaining $1.7 million covered State DOT personnel and equipment costs. These cost projections, released on February 21, did not include anticipated maintenance repair expenses.
Also on February 21, FEMA estimated that federal assistance was expected to exceed $5 million for snow removal costs. As inspectors worked with local officials to compile and review DSRs, the DFO received 292 Notice of Interests to participate for the Public Assistance program in order to recoup snow removal expenses. They were submitted by: one rural water district; four public school districts; two power cooperatives; three Indian Reservations; five state agencies; 51 counties; and 226 cities.
A few days later, on February 25, the State Department of Agriculture released a report indicating that the state livestock industry has sustained approximately $32.8 million in direct losses, including: $6 million for buildings and machinery; $4.7 million in livestock deaths; $21.7 million in extra feed consumption; and $50,000 for milk dumped because of blocked access roads. The Agriculture Snow Emergency Task Force placed animal carcass removal costs at $150,000.
As North Dakota business owners reviewed their disaster-related costs, SBA representatives in late February and early March conducted public informational meetings to explain the requirements of the Disaster Relief Program and the loan application process. They held meetings in Bismarck, Jamestown, Fargo, Wahpeton and Grand Forks.
Work on the snow disaster was beginning to wind down for all levels of government when an eighth blizzard struck the state on March 3-4. Snowfall ranged from one to two inches in the Devils Lake Basin to 15.1 inches in Fargo. The storm isolated approximately 18 families in McIntosh County. Area farmers began dumping milk because snow-clogged roads prevented access for delivery trucks. Local and State DOT crews cleared highways of snow.
In early March, Public Assistance inspectors assigned to Devils Lake and Minot satellite offices had completed their work. The Valley City satellite office closed on March 8 and inspectors moved to the Bismarck office to complete the final details of their work. DFO staff members had submitted 439 DSRs to the Bismarck processing center.
The State/Federal DFO closed on March 15. All but three DSRs had been received by North Dakota Emergency Management for delivery to applicants. Documentation was still being compiled on the final three. Efforts by FEMA and North Dakota Emergency Management to expedite DSRs resulted in a rapid turnaround.
Only two weeks later, state, local and disaster workers would initiate a full-scale response effort to record flooding and an ice storm and blizzard - the ninth to strike North Dakota -- that paralyzed the entire state.
A Spring of Record Flooding
Long before flood waters made North Dakota a focal point of national media attention, emergency management officials had developed and put into action extensive preparation plans. They based their efforts on analyses of a flooding threat by staffs from the NWS, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), State Water Commission and other water management groups.
In The Floods of 1997, the State Water Commission reported that geographic conditions exist throughout North Dakota that act as constant precursors to flooding. Rivers have little gradient as evidenced by the Red River Basin, where gradients are as little as one-half foot per mile. The northerly flow of the Red River can also cause potential problems since runoff can encounter frozen portions of the river, creating, as the report states, "an enormous potential for flooding." In western North Dakota, where rivers follow a southeasterly course, ice jams also pose a threat. Another precursor evolved last fall when above average precipitation that occurred during the previous four years left the land with a higher-than-normal water content. Then, during winter, heavy, wet snowfall broke record levels. "A lack of mid-winter thaws likely influenced the large amount of snow retained on the ground until the spring thaw," the report noted.
Local, state and federal partners participated in flood preparedness activities and meetings throughout the fall and winter. Measures taken by these partners included identifying and prioritizing key facilities and structures in harm's way; relocation and/or elevation of structures; site specific planning; abandonment and/or elevation of transportation routes and facilities; temporary diking measures; and water storage measures.
Throughout winter, North Dakota Emergency Management conducted its State Flood Coordination Center (SFCC) meetings in Devils Lake. For the past five years, this closed-basin lake has flooded, gradually encroaching on the city of Devils Lake and its 8,000 residents. Impacts and damages to infrastructure, homes and businesses have been the recipient of over $200 million in state and federal assistance since the flooding began in 1993. However, loss of land for agriculture production has been among the damage items most difficult to address. In preparation for a sixth year of flooding, SFCC meeting participants outlined their preparation plans and listed damages likely to occur at 1,438, 1,439 and 1,440 feet of elevation.
In early February, Governor Schafer requested technical assistance for flood preparedness measures from the Omaha District of the USACE. This assistance included help clearing the James River channel and installing channel blocks downstream of Jamestown, and on both ends of the Oxbow area located in the southeastern part of the city.
Staffs for the Governorís Office and North Dakota Emergency Management also prepared and distributed articles on flood preparedness to such publications as the North Dakota League of Citiesí "CityScan," the North Dakota REC Magazine, North Dakota Water Magazine, North Dakota Peace Officers Association monthly newsletter, North Dakota Fire Chiefs Association and the Agriculture Network Service.
On February 18, members of the State Hazard Mitigation Team met to discuss measures to mitigate damages from the winter storms and those likely to occur if predictions for flooding hold true. Participants included North Dakota Emergency Management, USACE, N.D. Aeronautics Commission, N.D. Forest Service, National Guard, State Parks and Recreation, State DOT, State Radio Communications, State Department of Health, State Game and Fish Department and the Civil Air Patrol. Afterward, North Dakota Emergency Management prepared an application to FEMA Region VIII for HMGP funding for the state teamís proposed ice dusting project, an effort to enhance snow melt, reduce the formation of ice jams and improve flow of water during the spring melt. The application called for using sand on rivers to accelerate the melting process.
The first North Dakota river rose above flood stage on February 24 as Montanaís spring runoff forced the Missouri River at Williston to crest at 23.3 feet; flood stage is 20 feet. Four days later, on February 28, the NWS released its "Spring Snowmelt Flood Outlook," which called for record flooding throughout the state. The threat of flooding ranged from minor to moderate in western North Dakota to severe in the east. The report noted that record flooding was expected along the Red River at Wahpeton in the southeast and at Pembina in the northeast. Meteorologists also expected record levels along the Park River at Grafton; the Pembina River at Walhalla and Neche; the Maple River at Enderlin and Mapleton; and the Sheyenne River at Kindred, Harwood and the Sheyenne Diversion at West Fargo. In north central North Dakota, Devils Lake was forecasted to reach 1,440.5 feet, one-half foot shy of its 1830 record level.
That same day, Governor Schafer declared a statewide emergency to help facilitate preparation for spring flooding. He based his proclamation on the NWS report, information from local and state emergency management officials, thick ice cover on rivers and tributaries, and excessive fall and early winter precipitation on already saturated lands. An Executive Order activated the North Dakota Emergency Operations Plan.
North Dakota Emergency Management issued its first spring flood Situation Report on March 6, outlining efforts to stockpile supplies and prepare equipment and manpower resources for potential flood-fight activities. The report noted that The Salvation Army has initiated "Operation - We Care" for volunteers and fund raising.
The State DOT and National Guard initiated a major flood preparedness effort on March 19, the day after North Dakota Emergency Management received approval from FEMAís regional office in Denver for the ice dusting project. Approval came after health and environmental officials from North Dakota, Canada and Minnesota evaluated the environmental impact of using sand for ice dusting. State DOT and National Guard crews targeted sites along the Sheyenne and Red Rivers in the hopes that the sand would accelerate melting and, in turn, prevent the formation of ice jams.
Also on March 19, Governor Schafer conducted a meeting to review the State Emergency Operations Plan (SEOP) with cabinet-level staff in preparation for potential spring flooding. The Governor issued an Executive Order allowing for a waiver of dike permit requirements as long as North Dakotans abide by safety standards.
North Dakota encountered its first major bout with flooding during the March 20-21 weekend. Warm temperatures and a rapid snowmelt caused western rivers to rapidly rise, forcing the evacuation of approximately 200 people in Hettinger, Mercer, Morton and Sioux Counties. City of Beulah and Mercer County officials used front-end loaders and boats to evacuate the few stranded residents who did not leave their homes when warned. A driver sustained minor injuries after he drove into a washout southeast of Hazen. In response to the needs of local governments, North Dakota Emergency Management coordinated state resources, including the delivery of pumps from the State Game and Fish Department and the State Water Commission to the city of Beulah. The Salvation Army and the Red Cross, as well as community volunteers, provided shelter and meals to evacuees.
Rivers creating havoc included the Knife, Cannonball and Heart Rivers and their tributaries. The USGS reported that 25- to 50-year flood events occurred at 10 gauging points along these rivers. The Cannonball River rose 12 feet in 24 hours at Regent and was expected to crest two feet over its 22-foot river stage. The river destroyed an 80-foot steel truss bridge northeast of Hettinger. Flood waters from the Heart River isolated nine Morton County farm families. One man was rescued after walking through the riverís 6 ‡-foot high rushing waters. An ice-covered Missouri River also caused concern for officials for Morton and Burleigh Counties who watched to see if ice jams would cause flooding.
Governor Schafer signed a Disaster Proclamation on March 24 declaring a flood disaster existed in Dunn, Grant, Hettinger, Mercer, Morton, Sioux and Stark Counties. He also issued an Executive Order utilizing the SEOP to respond and recover from the disaster.
Teams from the State Department of Human Services, North Dakota Emergency Management and FEMA visited homes in western North Dakota as part of a Preliminary Damage Assessment for Individual Assistance. Their report indicated 211 homes in seven western North Dakota counties were affected by flooding during the March 21-23 weekend. Of those homes, 104 were affected but habitable, 89 experienced minor damage and were temporarily uninhabitable, and 18 received major damage and were temporarily uninhabitable. No home was destroyed.
Meanwhile, in eastern North Dakota, county emergency managers sent Situation Reports to North Dakota Emergency Management detailing flood preparedness efforts. Such efforts included around-the-clock work by the city of Grafton Public Works Department to clear snow and ice from the cityís emergency levees. Walsh County Highway Department employees and private contractors delivered sand to rural residents. The LaMoure County flood team met to discuss response to potential flooding along the James River. National Guard members assisted with sandbagging operations in the city of Harwood. City of Cavalier volunteers filled nearly 20,000 sandbags.
State support also continued as National Guard and contractors hired by the State DOT applied sand to rivers as part of "ice dusting" efforts. As part of that effort, the National Guard tested the effectiveness of a mixture of water and a dye, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), on a three-mile stretch of Beaver Creek in Emmons County. Guard members also completed construction of a sandbagging machine with four spouts capable of filling 1,600 to 2,000 bags per hour. State Radio Communications provided a radio frequency for dike walkers in Grand Forks County, and North Dakota Emergency Management compiled a list of vendors and construction companies that have dozers and sandbag machines available for use. That list was distributed to the stateís 53 counties. The State Department of Human Services prepared disaster coordinators at regional offices for responding to the needs of flood victims.
On March 28, the NWS issued its final Spring Snowmelt Flood Outlook that again underscored the threat for near record or above record flooding in eastern North Dakota.
The first two of eight flood-related deaths occurred on March 29 when a LaMoure County woman and her daughter drowned when their pickup and horse trailer struck a washout on a county road near Bonehill Creek. Dive teams located their bodies two days later after workers temporarily diverted the creekís water flow to allow for the search.
On March 31, overland flood waters flowed over a nine-mile stretch of the eastbound and westbound lanes of I-94, between Oriska and Tower City. The State Water Commission reported that the snow and ice have prevented the Spiritwood Lake in Stutsman County from overflowing. But as a precautionary measure, the State Game and Fish Department installed a screen to capture the lakeís fish.
Flood waters continued to create havoc in early April with township, county, state and federal highways in eastern North Dakota. Inundated sites included I-29 near Drayton and I-94 at the Ayr interchange, between Casselton and Fargo. Travel became increasingly difficult on water-logged roads, prompting concerns that delays could occur or access could be restricted.
Warm weather and brisk winds promoted a more rapid snowmelt as gauging sites along tributaries of the Red River showed rapid rises during a 24-hour period ending April 2. The next day, a swelling Red River reached its 10-foot flood stage at Wahpeton and barely exceeded its 17-foot flood stage in Fargo. Other rivers rising a few feet above flood stage included the Wild Rice, Goose, Sheyenne and Souris Rivers and the Baldhill Creek.
As rivers filled, flood fights were required in eastern North Dakota communities, including Milnor in Sargent County, where residents participated in a late night flood response April 2 after a clogged drainage culvert backed up, impacting 45 nearby homes. In Enderlin, Maple River waters flooded three homes, and overland flooding inundated three other homes. Residents evacuated to private homes and a local motel. North Dakota Emergency Management also received 19 reports of families whose homes had been isolated by rising waters or damaged by flood waters. These reports came from Barnes, Foster, LaMoure, McIntosh, Ransom, Sargent and Walsh Counties. In Nelson County, Sheyenne River waters forced an elderly man and his niece from their home.
The Maple River became the first North Dakota river to exceed its flood of record stage as it rose to 15.4 feet at Mapleton on April 5. Flood of record had been 15 feet. That same day, flood waters forced the evacuation of six LaMoure County families. And, farther north, Forest River waters isolated 35 homes, requiring residents to seek shelter with friends or families.
Flood-fight operations stepped up as the USACE upgraded its dike construction for the city of Enderlin to 24-hour operations. Citing the imminent flooding in the Red River Basin, Major General Bjerke requested the St. Paul District of the USACE to provide technical, manual and material assistance to the state and local communities under Public Law 84-99. Those flood preparedness measures included construction of a $600,000 emergency dike designed for the city of Grafton. Walsh County and city of Minto officials monitored the Forest River. N.D. Highway 81 was closed after rising Forest River waters inundated a bridge.
Ice dusting efforts were also underway as National Guard crews dumped 300 tons of sand onto the Red River. Thirty members were assigned to ground support and 28 members to aviation support. The operation came to a halt as a blizzard moved into the state late on April 4.
This blizzard - the ninth and final of the winter season - created such rapid and widespread damage that Governor Schaferís request for a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration was granted within one day. The blizzard left more than 30,000 North Dakotans without power when ice-coated power and telephone poles snapped. Power outages also disrupted electrical service to lift stations and emergency pumps already working at capacity to keep up with flood waters. A combination of freezing rain and high winds toppled government and commercial radio and television towers, limiting North Dakotansí access to emergency information. High winds also compounded flooding problems, causing whitecaps on rivers and roadways that were inundated with flood waters. The storm, which paralyzed the entire state, had closed the entire state highway and interstate systems, preventing the delivery of flood-fight supplies to the Red River Valley. Ninety motorists traveling on I-94 in western North Dakota were stranded and and evacuated to Hebron where they spent the night at private homes and at city hall. Storm conditions prevented ranchers and farmers from reaching their livestock, causing concern that losses would be heavy since many cows were still calving. The NWS reported snowfall amounts ranged from 10 to 24 inches throughout the state. This added the equivalent of one to three inches of rain to areas that were already inundated by spring runoff.
Ironically, Wahpeton found itself in the midst of both a flood and snow fight as the Red River crested at an all-time high of 19.2 feet. Many homes filled with water from both sewer backup and seepage, forcing 100 residents from their homes during the middle of a blizzard. Power outages prevented flood victims from operating pumps. As the Richland County emergency manager reported in an April 6 Situation Report to the State EOC, "Snow removal activities will begin in the morning as we have gone from a devastating flood to a downright obnoxious blizzard, and the ark is stuck in a flow bank. "
The next day, Richland County was placed under a flash flood warning because of an ice jam on the Bois De Sioux River at its confluence with the Red River. Water that accumulated behind the jam flooded agricultural land. In Wahpeton, a dike protecting the city showed signs of being breached, but volunteers were able to reinforce it with sandbags. Meanwhile, homeowners reported sewer and water in basements, foundation damage and sewer caps that had been blown off drains because of extreme pressure within the sanitary sewer system. Flood waters turned to ice and slush, making pumping operations a slow, intensive process. The mayor banned all travel within city limits to allow for placement of pumps and equipment and to eliminate sightseers who were hampering the flood response. The ban carried a $500 fine.
Two people lost their lives during the storm. A Walsh County motoristís body was found next to his vehicle after he became stranded by storm conditions. In Ransom County, a young man died during a mobile home fire believed to be started by a candle that had been in use after electrical service to his home was disrupted. Their deaths represented the third and fourth disaster-related deaths of the 1997 spring flood.
As North Dakotans battled both flood waters and ice storm conditions, officials received dozens of reports of people suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning due to ventilation shortfalls in the operation of generators and pumps used to ensure heat and electricity. A lineman working to restore power was injured when he fell from a pole in Steele County.
On April 7, an Emmons County man became the fifth disaster-related death when snowdrifts delayed an ambulance crewís response by one hour. Those without power faced the threat of hypothermia. In Cass County, an elderly rural woman was treated for hypothermia after neighbors rescued her and her brother.
As a result of the storm, schools, businesses and government offices either canceled or delayed openings. Prolonged power outages prevented farmers and ranchers from operating electric pumps used to supply livestock with water. County officials reported growing numbers of cattle and calf deaths. In Logan County, alone, more than 150 head of cattle had drowned in Beaver Creek.
By April 8, thousands of North Dakotans remained without electricity as electric cooperatives and power companies worked to restore power. Ten electric cooperatives reported ice and high winds had toppled hundreds of transmission towers and 4,300 power poles. Damage was so extensive that efforts to restore power took several days in some locations. Because of electrical outages, flooding and storm conditions, hundreds of North Dakotans were unable to return home. They sought refuge at approximately 30 shelters throughout the state. In Traill County, approximately 800 residents were sheltered in schools and fire stations.
State DOT and local road crews pushed through snowdrifts, opening roads that had been closed for more than 48 hours. The National Guard initiated 27 missions that included delivering generators to cities, providing emergency transportation, providing dozers to help clear paths for electrical companies, and assisting with sandbagging operations. The U.S. Fifth Army and Forces Command staff members were assigned to the State EOC to help facilitate requests for U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) assets. State Radio Communications provided emergency communications to several counties that lost commercial power for these communications systems.
Grand Forks Emergency Management Office staff, like many county emergency management offices along the Red River, worked on issues related to power outages and storm conditions, as well as those caused by the rising Red. On April 8, the Grand Forks Emergency Manager issued a Flood Warning Level II, indicating that the Red River had exceeded 35 feet. Flood stage is 28 feet. This warning requires a high state of readiness by key flood-fight personnel.
Also in response to the flood threat, the State Highway Patrol placed its troopers on 24-hour notice, the first phase of its Emergency Mobilization Plan. A few days later, the State Highway Patrol upgraded operations at two North Dakota weigh stations to 24 hours. Attendants at the weigh station at Buxton on I-29 and the West Fargo station on I-94 routed trucks around inundated sites and enforced an 80,000-pound weight restriction.
As of April 9, nearly 10,500 rural electric customers were still without power. Utility companies anticipated that power would not be restored to more remote areas for up to seven days. Utility crews from other states, including South Dakota, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska and Wisconsin, arrived in the state to assist with efforts to restore power. Arrangements were made to bring 50 generators and operators to North Dakota. The National Guard provided 18 generators to communities. The National Guard also established 24-hour command posts at Bohn Armory in Bismarck and at the Air National Guard headquarters in Fargo.
National leaders, including Vice President Al Gore, arrived in North Dakota to tour flood-damaged sites and to talk with disaster victims. On April 9, First Lady Nancy Schafer, Marilyn Quayle, the Salvation Armyís national spokesperson, and national and regional Salvation Army representatives visited flood-damaged areas in Wahpeton and Fargo. FEMA Director James Lee Witt and North Dakotaís congressional delegation toured the Red River area on April 10. The next day, Vice President Gore visited North Dakotaís storm-damaged and flood-stricken areas. The National Guard provided helicopter and crews for the visits.
As the Red River rose to 36.79 feet at Fargo, the NWS revised its forecast on April 10. The river was now expected to rise to 37.5 to 38 feet. Flood of record was 37.5 feet. As a precautionary measure, the Fargo Veterans Administration hospital staff evacuated one-half of its patients. In West Fargo, National Guard crews evacuated two families after water encircled their homes. The Highway Patrol assisted truck drivers around the Fargo area and worked with State DOT to determine placement of barricades. National Guard members staffed those barricades. The Civil Air Patrol conducted surveillance flights of the Red River Valley for such groups as the State Water Commission, NWS, North Dakota Emergency Management and the USACE. Disaster relief agencies upgraded operations, as well.
Catholic and Lutheran church organizations formed the Disaster Relief Task Force to provide equipment for disaster victims, including generators and sump pumps. Also, a toll-free teleregistration number for North Dakota disaster victims, allowing them to register immediately for state, federal and voluntary disaster assistance programs, was established.
Concerned about the storm and flood impacts on their communities, 120 members of the State Legislative Assembly met on April 10 with state agencies responding to the disaster. These agencies discussed the interagency effort required to address problems created by the disaster.
The Red River surpassed its 37.5-foot flood of record at Fargo early April 11 as residents reinforced sandbags and earthen dikes. No major breaches occurred, although breakouts were reported along dikes in the Sheyenne River Diversion in West Fargo. There, water in the diversion was nearly two feet above its flood of record stage of 21.5 feet. Homeowners, who had been without power since April 5, battled with inundated basements. Downstream, the city of Wahpeton braced for its second crest of the Red River. The river was expected to rise to 17.5 to 18.5 feet by April 12-13. City officials issued an urgent request for sandbaggers to raise the level of the dike on the cityís south side.
Also on April 11, the State EOC received reports of the sixth and seventh disaster-related deaths. A LaMoure County man, who had been operating an inadequately-ventilated generator, died of carbon monoxide poisoning. In Divide County, a motorist was killed and his passenger injured when their vehicle struck a washout on a rural Crosby road. The road had been closed to traffic. The following day, a State Highway Patrol trooper suffered hypothermia after he attempted to rescue a driver whose vehicle landed in an ice-crusted, water-filled ditch along I-94 near Mapleton. The motorist died of a massive heart attack; his death was not as a result of flooding in the area.
The longer people were without power, the more pervasive the problem of carbon monoxide poisoning became. By April 11, approximately 30 North Dakotans had been treated for carbon monoxide poisoning. Food-related illnesses also became a problem. In Wahpeton, several people at a Wahpeton shelter and at the Richland County EOC became ill. A State Department of Health representative, a county nurse and a sanitarian investigated the cause. Although they were unable to establish a correlation between food and the illness, the health officials decided prepared food donations would no longer be accepted and that all food would be prepared on site as a precautionary measure.
Power outages prevented the operation of sump and water pumps. As a result, hundreds of basements were flooded throughout the state. In Walsh County, Minto residents lost ground in their fight against rising waters. One resident reported up to eight inches of water on the main floor. In nearby Forest River, a family evacuated their home when water pipes between the first and second floors broke.
The National Guard continued efforts to deliver generators and to evacuate flood victims. Their effort, dubbed "Operation Good Neighbor," required 167 pieces of equipment, from sandbag machines and generators to helicopters. The Coast Guard also continued its evacuation efforts. They rescued four Harwood residents, two sightseers in a stalled vehicle and two adults and four children who were stranded by flood waters. Another team flew emergency blood supplies from Fargo to Grand Forks after inundated roads prevented timely delivery by ground transportation. The National Guard and Coast Guard joined forces during one mission to evacuate two adults, three children and one dog.
As flooding and ice storm problems continued, the State EOC began 24-hour operations. The State EOC was staffed by representatives of North Dakota Emergency Management, State Water Commission, Highway Patrol, National Guard, State DOT, North Dakota Civil Air Patrol, U.S. Department of Transportation, FEMA, the U.S. Department of Defense and Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officers representing the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force. Agencies augmenting efforts included the Governorís Office, State Radio Communications, State Department of Human Services, State Department of Health, State Department of Agriculture, N.D. Agricultural Statistical Service, the N.D. Extension Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, USGS, the U.S. Forest Service, the NWS and Minot and Grand Forks Air Force Bases.
As part of its support of State EOC operations, the Civil Air Patrol had flown 23 surveillance missions by April 14, including one where an air crew videotaped flood damages for Cass County and state officials.
On April 14, FEMA opened a Disaster Field Office (DFO) in Bismarck staffed initially by 100 people. The Presidential Major Disaster Declaration issued by President Clinton made available Individual Assistance in each of North Dakotaís 53 counties to help pay for temporary housing, minor home repairs and other serious disaster-related expenses. Under the declaration, 40 counties were initially eligible for Hazard Mitigation funds and for Public Assistance relief for debris removal and emergency protective measures. The declaration was expanded to include the 13 remaining counties on April 14. Lesli A. Rucker and Pete Bakersky of FEMAís Region VIII Office in Denver were named FCO and Deputy FCO, respectively. The FEMA-State agreement, which outlined the scope of federal assistance available to North Dakotans, was signed on April 16.
Additional information about disaster aid became available during this time period as Governor Schafer announced that North Dakotans who were totally or partially unemployed as a direct result of the disaster may be eligible for disaster unemployment benefits from Job Service North Dakota.
As flood fighters repaired boils on levees, the Red River continued its rise, prompting the NWS on April 15 to upgrade its predicted crests for Wahpeton, Fargo and Grand Forks. The crest for Wahpeton was upgraded to 19.5 feet. This was one-third of one foot above its 19.2 flood of record level set only 10 days earlier. In Fargo, the river was expected to rise to 39 feet, one-half foot over earlier projections, and from 49 feet to 50 feet in Grand Forks. Downstream, the Red River was flowing out of its banks in Walsh County. Red River tributaries also continued their rise with the Goose River gaining three feet during April 14-15. The Goose River was expected to rise another six to seven feet by April 17-19.
In response to the additional rise, the Grand Forks sandbagging effort was upgraded to 24-hour operations. By April 15, approximately 12,000 volunteers had filled more than 1.3 million sandbags in preparation for the crest. Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES) provided instantaneous audio and video from all Grand Forks dikes and any trouble spots that arose. UND officials dismissed classes on April 16 to allow students and staff to join flood-fight efforts. As a precautionary measure, Grand Forks County and city officials began conducting informational meetings, outlining evacuation plans for residents.
Flood fight efforts in Fargo intensified as the Red River reached its new flood of record level of 39.5 feet. South Fargo residents on April 16 battled flood waters that spilled out of the Wild Rice River and traveled overland toward Rose Creek. The next day, a sandbag levee in northeast Fargo failed, flooding 23 homes and the Oak Grove School.
Meanwhile, concerns over cattle deaths continued to mount as agriculture officials reported that approximately 90,000 cattle perished during the April blizzard and ice storm compared to 20,000 that died during January and February. (The number of deaths would later be upgraded to 150,000 as agriculture officials received more notifications of cattle deaths.) Additionally, cows suffering from dehydration and weight loss, were aborting calves. The State Department of Agriculture opened an Agriculture Information Center on April 17 to assist farmers with these problems. Representatives of the Department, the North Dakota State University Extension Service and Farm Service Agency staffed the phone lines, answering 250 calls during the first day of operations. Meanwhile, National Guard crews began efforts to remove cattle carcasses from waterways, starting with the 150 head of cattle that perished in Beaver Creek. The carcass water removal and burial program was coordinated in cooperation with the National Guard, the State Department of Agricultureís Animal Damage Control, State Game and Fish Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency, State Department of Health and North Dakota Emergency Management.
Grand Forks was arguably one of the best prepared Red River Valley cities for flooding. The city had prepared by supplementing the existing levee system with with 3.5 million sandbags filled 17,500 tons of sand, 170,000 cubic yards of clay and 20,000 cubic yards of gravel. However, the city began losing its flood fight as revised forecasts called for the river to rise higher than expected. With the upgraded forecasts, the USACE worked to raise dikes to 54 feet and hundreds joined in efforts to reinforce those dikes, including 500 personnel from the Grand Forks Air Force Base.
The first evacuations took place on April 17 as residents living near a Lincoln Park dike were evacuated as a precautionary measure. That same day, Grand Forks almost suffered a flood-related fatality. A youth had fallen into the river, but was revived after a rescuer administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
Warning sirens began echoing throughout the city on April 18 as residents of 1,000 homes fled the city after supplementary emergency dikes began collapsing under the pressure of flood waters. Residents living in Riverside and Lincoln Parks and neighboring streets were forced to evacuate. Flood waters soon swamped many of the 300 Lincoln Park homes to their roof pitches. A few hours later, Central Park began filling rapidly. The mayor ordered the closure of schools and non-emergency businesses. As flood waters spread out and began flowing into the city, residents were alerted that all areas were subject to overland flooding and inundation of storm sewers. The Red River had surpassed its 100-year flood event at Grand Forks with record flows of 145,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). (The average, non-flood flow is 780 cfs.) The velocity of water in Grand Forks river channels had doubled from April 17 to April 18, compounding threats to dikes already experiencing problems with breaches. The NWS reported that the Red River had risen to 51.55 feet, more than two feet during 24 hours. Revised forecasts called for the river to reach 53 feet late April 19 and to remain high for five to seven days. A press release from the Grand Forks asked residents to evacuate at once. "Take with you medications, pillows and blankets, immediate clothing needs. Please, for your safety, leave at once," the statement read.
Grand Forks EOC staff abandoned their police station location and moved to University of North Dakotaís( UND) Plant Services Building as water inundated the downtown area. Water was heading down the street and toward the EOC as staff members completed the relocation. Thirty minutes later, the basement was full of water.
As flood waters poured into Grand Forks, city and county officials requested that the State EOC contact the National Red Cross Disaster Response Team to establish shelter for 10,000 people at the Grand Forks Air Force Base. The Red Cross set up shelters at the base and at the Grand Forks National Guard Armory. Shelters also had been opened at Red River High School and Valley Middle School. Grand Forks Mayor Pat Owens ordered motel guests to leave motels so emergency workers could have the rooms.
In the early morning hours of April 19, approximately 10,000 Grand Forks residents were forced to flee 3,000 homes as city officials called for a voluntary evacuation of the city and a mandatory evacuation of a 10-block area west of the Red River. Within hours, a total of 90 percent -- 47,000 -- residents had evacuated their homes as flood waters covered 75 percent of the city. When the Red River reached 52.9 feet, the only Grand Forks link to Minnesota was lost as officials closed the Kennedy Bridge on U.S. Highway 2. The State Highway Patrol and State DOT closed I-29 north of Grand Forks, where flood waters were crossing the Interstate. The U.S. Geological Service (USGS) reported that flows had decreased from 145,000 cfs to 100,000 cfs as the water spread out into Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. Still, the river crested at 54.1 feet, nearly six feet over earlier crest predictions. A clay dike was constructed around United Hospital to keep the facility operational.
During the midst of the flood fight, an emergency dike was constructed on South Washington to prevent additional inundation of the southwest portion of the city. The dike took 30 hours to build and measured three-quarters of a mile long. State Water Commission officials would later report that this dike prevented additional inundation of the southwest portion of the city.
By April 19, all Red River gauging stations were above flood stage with the level at Wahpeton surpassing its 19.2-foot flood of record as the river crested at 19.5 feet.
More than 3,000 Grand Forks residents stayed at public shelters. When it was apparent that the four shelters already in operation would not be adequate for flood victims, the chancellor of North Dakotaís University System and the State Department of Human Services director arrived at the State EOC at 3:00 a.m. April 19 to make arrangements for additional housing arrangements for evacuees. Shelters were opened at UND-Lake Region in Devils Lake, Mayville State University and Valley City State University. State Department of Human Services staff coordinated the evacuation of approximately 120 Grand Forks developmentally-disabled and severely mentally ill clients who were taken to two state facilities. A few days later, the State Departments of Health and Human Services evacuated frail elderly evacuees staying at the Air Base shelter to long-term care facilities throughout the state. The Grand Forks Air Force Base and the North Dakota Long Term Care Association assisted with both relocation efforts. FEMA delivered 1,500 cots to the Grand Forks Air Force Base shelter. Those evacuees not housed at public facilities took shelter with family and friends in surrounding communities and even other states.
In addition to arranging shelter, the University System chancellor announced classes at UND were canceled for the remaining spring semester. The N.D. Department of Public Instruction would later report that only one-third of nearly 9,000 public school students and 1,000 private school students had re-enrolled in class at other schools throughout the state.
In the midst of this catastrophic flood, fire erupted in downtown Grand Forks on April 20, destroying 11 buildings in a four-block downtown area. The fire raged for more than 24 hours as flooded streets and inadequate water pressure made response difficult. Three firefighters, who had been standing in four feet of cold water, suffered hypothermia. The extent of the fire required assistance of aerial and ground response units from other cities. In addition, two houses caught fire and were extinguished. City officials worked with Northern States Power to shut down power to avoid further risk of fire in the evacuated areas.
When the Grand Forks city water system began showing signs of failing, the National Guard sent five purification units to provide bottled waters to evacuees. The water plant soon became inundated, forcing an evacuation of 45 critically-ill patients from Altru Health System (formerly United Hospital). Residents and workers who remained in the city were instructed to boil or chemically treat water before consumption. With the failure of the water system, officials worried residents would not be able to return for at least two weeks.
A total of 1,000 National Guard members were now assisting with flood-fight efforts. Sixty-four missions were in progress; 105 had been completed. National Guard helicopter crews helped with the evacuation of patients from United Hospital. They were assisted by two U.S. Department of Defense helicopters and a C-9 medical-evacuation airplane. Eight assault bridge boats were dispatched to Grand Forks to assist with evacuation of residents. National Guard forces assisted with security in the city.
State agencies and number of personnel responding to the needs of flood victims during the April 18-20 weekend included: the Governorís Office, 4; National Guard, 1,000; State Department of Human Services, 90; State Department of Health, 40; N.D. State Water Commission, 25; North Dakota Emergency Management, 26; State DOT, 250; State Radio Communications, 29; the State Highway Patrol, 100; N.D. State Electrical Board, 6; and the North Dakota Civil Air Patrol, 100.
The State Department of Health began sending medical supplies, including tetanus vaccines, to help the Grand Forks Public Health District care for evacuees. The agency mobilized public health nurses and staff from its Microbiology and Food and Lodging Divisions. The Food and Lodging staff conducted inspections at shelters, and Microbiology staff helped with efforts to restore the cityís water system. At the request of the State Health Officer, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) activated three medical units, each with 50 members, to assist flood victims housed at the Grand Forks Air Force Base. Health officials also requested that the Veterans Administration dispatch its mobile medical van to Grand Forks.
The N.D. State Electrical Board also stepped into action helping city of Grand Forks with electrical inspections and reviewing wiring inspection reports. The board helped the city establish minimum requirements for repair of flood-damaged wiring. The board assigned six employees to assist Grand Forks with inspections and hired two temporary employees to record and file permits.
During the weekend, FEMA established a Disaster Operations Center at the Bismarck Civic Center to assist North Dakota Emergency Management in securing federal assets in response to the disaster. The FEMA/State Donations Coordination Center also became operational and was staffed by Seventh Day Adventist Disaster Response, United Methodist Council on Relief (UMCOR) and three flood-displaced volunteers from Grand Forks. By April 21, The Salvation Army reported that it had assisted 93,161 displaced flood victims and disaster services personnel through "Operation We Care." Staff and volunteers provided meals to 19,000 sandbaggers, emergency/security personnel and evacuees. More than 27,700 volunteers from 14 states had participated to date in Red River flood relief efforts in both North Dakota and Minnesota.
On April 22, as the Red River at Grand Forks reached its crest, President Clinton arrived at Grand Forks Air Force Base to meet with evacuees and state, federal and local leaders. He announced that he had directed FEMA to reimburse 100 percent of North Dakotaís cost for immediate disaster-related emergency work. The President planned to propose to Congress an additional $88 million in supplemental disaster assistance for North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. During his stay, the President participated in an aerial surveillance flight of flood-damaged areas along the Red River, and met with Governor Schafer; SCO Major General Keith D. Bjerke; Mike Armstrong, FEMA Region VIII Director; and FCO Lesli A. Rucker. Major General Bjerke also met with the U.S. Secretary of the Army.
At the Governorís and State Coordinating Officerís request, the North Dakota League of Cities assumed responsibility on April 23 to support local efforts in delivering donated goods to flood victims. The League, through its network of city officials, helped secure warehouse garage space throughout the Red River Valley and helped establish distribution sites and procedures. The result was that tons of valuable items donated from throughout the United States were delivered to those in need in a timely and effective manner.
As Red River flood waters headed north, a crack in a levee forced an early morning evacuation of the city of Draytonís 1,080-plus residents on April 22. Law enforcement officials began the evacuation at 3 a.m. and reported by 6 a.m. all residents had left. They had expected the town to be inundated with Red River flood waters by 11 a.m., but a reinforced dike held the water back. The river at Drayton rose to 44.82 feet, surpassing its flood-of-record level of 43.8 feet set in 1979. The NWS expected the river to crest between 48 and 49 feet by April 23, nearly five feet over projections. A Drayton bulk fertilizer plant manager received assistance with relocating his fertilizer supply after the National Guard Public Affairs Office contacted television and radio stations, issuing an urgent need for truck drivers.
Officials for the city of Pembina also ordered an evacuation of the cityís 640-plus residents by 6 p.m. on April 22. The Red River at Pembina had risen to 52.1 feet, approximately 3.45 feet in 24 hours. The NWS expected the river to crest at Pembina at 58 to 59 feet by late April 25.
Meanwhile, representatives of the city of Grand Forks, USACE, National Guard and State Water Commission met to establish water distribution and production priorities. The group agreed that the first priority was to secure an adequate water supply for Grand Forks Air Force Base, where more than 2,500 evacuees were housed. The second priority was to supply water for other shelters in the Grand Forks area, and the third priority was to produce 1 million gallons to start up and sanitize the cityís water treatment plant.
Red River flood waters began to slowly recede in Grand Forks on April 23 as Elizabeth Dole, leader of the American Red Cross, and First Lady Nancy Schafer toured flood-stricken areas. The River had dropped nearly one-half foot during a 24-hour period. A Grand Forks chemical company reported that these flood waters may have been contaminated by a spill of 1,000 tons of urea.
State officials estimated that approximately 70,000 North Dakotans had been uprooted because either the areas where they live had been evacuated and/or their homes had been damaged by flood waters. The number of people staying at Red Cross shelters began to decline as more flood victims return home or seek shelter with friends and relatives. The Red Cross sheltered 1,356 evacuees at six shelters during April 22-23. At the height of the evacuation, the Red Cross had sheltered a total of 4,660 flood victims. The Red Cross served 8,200 meals on April 22 and a total of 75,948 meals statewide to date.
While Grand Forks evacuees faced the prospect of not returning home for two weeks, the U.S. Postal Service established a temporary post office at the Grand Forks Air Force Base. Grand Forks city officials established a temporary city hall at the UND Housing Office. The N.D. Banking Commissioner reported that Grand Forks banks and savings and loan institutions established customer telephone numbers for Grand Forks customers. The North Dakota Housing Finance Agency granted a forbearance a few weeks later for flood victims, waiving late charges and a delinquent status report on credit reports. Fannie Mae, a home mortgage institution, also announced mortgage relief provisions for borrowers facing hardships as a result of flooding.
At Governor Schaferís request, the North Dakota Community Foundation established the í97 Flood Relief Fund. Grants were made available to non-profit organizations serving the needs of flood victims and for cleanup and rebuilding. Grand Forks and North Dakota Emergency Management Offices began receiving offers of help throughout the nation as counties neighboring flooded areas assisted evacuees by providing housing and meals. Farm-based organizations also assisted with flood relief efforts as North Dakota Farmers Union established the Farmers Union Emergency Relief Fund.
One April 24, a dike broke in south Pembina, affecting four homes and 16 mobile homes. Officials for the city of Pembina allowed able-bodied people over 18 years of age into the evacuated city to assist with sandbagging efforts. The USACE used flashboard to elevate the levee and sandbags to reinforce it.
Upstream in Drayton, the Red River appeared to be holding steady at 45.55 feet. Predictions had called for the river to crest at 48 to 49 feet on April 23, but water spread overland, which was attenuating the peak.
To assist flood victims, the Health Care Financing Administration waived several requirements concerning continued eligibility and the new application for Medicaid. Additional disaster aid became available when the State Department of Human Services received $712,912 in funds from FEMA and the Center for Mental Health Services to provide crisis counseling for flood victims.
State and federal assistance continued as the State Department of Human Services initiated an Emergency Food Stamp Program for eight Red River Valley counties. State and FEMA Public Assistance inspectors completed training and began working with counties reporting flood damages on April 23. Inspectors began their work with 22 western North Dakota counties and moved east as flood waters subsided. Additional aid included $1 million from that the U.S. Department of Labor allocated to Job Service to fund temporary jobs in cleanup and recovery efforts.
The U.S. Army Reserveís 348th Quartermaster Unit arrived in Grand Forks on April 25 to assist the National Guard with production of potable water. The unit provided three reverse osmosis machines. The National Guard has 11 such machines in operation. Guard personnel also patrolled and repaired dikes, removed animal carcasses from waterways and buried them, and provided traffic control. State Radio Communications sent a base station and 18 portable radios to Grand Forks responders. The Civil Air Patrol provided an aerial surveillance flight of the Red River, from Grand Forks to the Canadian border.
U.S. congressional and relief organization leaders continued to arrive in Grand Forks and Devils Lake to tour the damage areas. U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich toured Grand Forks on April 25 and discussed federal assistance programs with Governor Schafer, local leaders and area business people. National leaders for the Salvation Army also toured flooded areas. They reported more than 20,000 flood victims and emergency workers had received some form of Salvation Army assistance. A few days later, Dick Armey, Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, and seven other House members toured Devils Lake and Grand Forks. Construction of an outlet for Devils Lake and disaster assistance for the Red River Valley were under review by Congress.
Southwest Grand Forks residents were allowed to see their homes on April 25 for the first time since evacuation, as flood waters began a slow retreat from their neighborhoods. Residents reported 20 burglaries had occurred. Other areas remained off limits as preliminary estimates by officials indicated that three riverside neighborhoods experienced total destruction. Grand Forks police officers resumed regular street patrol of areas where water has receded. Air crews from the Civil Air Patrol, State Highway Patrol and State Game and Fish Department provided 24-hour surveillance as they flew over the eastern portion of Grand Forks County.
As runoff filled waterways to capacity, emergency management workers also monitored conditions at Devils Lake. Revised predictions now called for the lake to rise to 1,444 feet by July, 3-‡ feet over original predictions. Meteorologists based the new forecast on USGS reports that coulees flowing into Devils Lake Basin are at record levels.
On April 26, the NWS downgraded its predicted crest for the Red River at Pembina as flood waters spread wide across the northern Red River Valley. The Red River crested at Pembina at 54.94 feet; flood stage is 42 feet.
Although the river volume decreased, the likelihood of overland flooding increased. Forecasters predicted that the volume of water would be the largest ever to pass through the Canadian border.
While Pembina County officials welcomed the downgraded crests for the Red River, they found themselves in the midst of a second flood fight as the Pembina River raged out of control between Walhalla and Neche, forcing the evacuation of 20 Leroy residents. In Pembina, night boat patrols by local law enforcement were begun to prevent unauthorized people from entering the city.
Shelter populations continued to drop with 350 staying overnight at the Grand Forks Air Force Base. The State Department of Health reported that no illnesses or major injuries had been reported thus far in the Red Cross shelters or in Grand Forks. By April 26, 20,538 North Dakotans had called FEMAís National Teleregistration Center to register for Individual Assistance. The State Department of Human Services had received 900 household applications for emergency food stamps, representing a total 2,700 people.
Restoration of the Grand Forks water treatment plant efforts were underway as a contractor crew pumped flood waters away from the facility. Another contractor replaced flood-damaged motors, while plumbing and electrical contractors worked to restore the water system. Crews discovered a reservoir with 800,000 gallons of clean water, which they used to scrub the plant.
By April 27-28, the Red River crest moved out of the northern end of the riverís valley and into Canada. Flood waters from both the Red and Pembina Rivers caused problems with overland flooding in Pembina County, inundating the city of Pembinaís lagoon.
As more Grand Forks residents returned home to inspect damages, contractors arrived in the area to bid on rebuilding work. The N.D. Secretary of State and the Attorney General opened a "one-stop shop" for issuing transient merchant and contractor licenses in Grand Forks. Applications were reviewed and processed by representatives of the city of Grand Forks, the Attorney Generalís Office, Secretary of Stateís Office, the Adjutant Generalís Office and the N.D. Workers Compensation Bureau. The Secretary of State reported that more than 200 licenses were issued on April 28, compared to a daily average of four licenses. The Licensing Section of the Attorney Generalís Office issues three merchant licenses per month, but had processed 10 times that many applications in two days.
The U.S. Army released N.D. National Guard member Doug Friez after 4 months of active duty in Bosnia-Herzegovina so he could resume his duties as State Director for North Dakota Emergency Management.
The State DOT reopened I-29 north of Fargo to Grand Forks on April 29. DOT workers began conducting safety and damage inspections of highway bridges inundated by flood waters. State Radio Communications continued to answer 911 calls from Grand Forks residents, the majority of whom are requesting information on assistance. State Radio initially averaged 250 calls a day from residents. That number had decreased to an average of 30 calls a day.
Water and power became top concerns among Grand Forks officials and residents. State Department of Health officials reported to the State EOC that the city water plant would possibly become operational April 30 or May 1. However, problems with water lines that broke promised to delay restoration of service. A four-member Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) team met with Grand Forks and Altru Hospital officials to discuss water restoration. Utility companies worked to restore power. However, before power could be restored to each home, gas and/or electrical connections had to first be inspected.
Grand Forks city officials opened the downtown area to the public, but continued to restrict access to some riverside neighborhoods heavily damaged by flooding. Most water that had inundated the Civic Auditorium and Police Department had been pumped out. Ground water kept infiltrating the building, making the task take longer than expected. A CDC environmental assessment team inspected damages at the law enforcement building, a church, a school, two houses and a restaurant as part of the teamís efforts to develop general recommendations for cleanup.
On April 29, The Salvation Army opened a supply distribution center in Grand Forks, assisting 1,939 people during its first day of operation.
By early May, recovery efforts were in full swing as Grand Forks residents began to sift through sludge to salvage their muddied, flood-damaged belongings. They hauled hopelessly-damaged items to curbsides as trash piles reached more than six feet high. Residents used buckets to wash photos, and they lined their yards with flood-soaked clothes. This widespread damage required contractors hired by the USACE to remove 60,000 tons of debris from city streets and 38,712 truckloads from berms.
Seventy five percent of Grand Forks homes were touched by flood waters that spread out as much as three miles into the city. Approximately 16,000 residents reported basements filled with water, and 4,000 had water on the main floor. These damages amounted to an almost $50 million loss in residential tax base.
Downtown businesses also suffered a stunning blow with 315 businesses employing 3,775 people affected by flooding. The city infrastructure incurred $70.5 million in damages, and 16 of 22 area schools suffered significant damages with three schools regarded as a total loss.
The State Department of Health ordered 25,000 cleanup kits at a cost of $1 million to supplement those kits distributed by the Red Cross. Supplemental items included bleach, liquid cleaners, trash liners, heavy duty gloves and scrubs and safety goggles. The Governor designated the State Department of Agriculture and State Department of Health as lead agencies for coordinating cleanup of flood-damaged fertilizer, pesticides and agriculture chemicals.
The Grand Forks water treatment plant became operational on May 1 with crews working to pressurize the southwest quadrant of the city. Two days later, the system was pressurized from west of U.S. Highway 81 and south of Demers Avenue. The plant was producing 4,300 gallons per minute (gpm). However, water was not potable. The plant had sustained more than $4.5 million in damages. Because of the extent of damage, Grand Forks would end up with 13 days without running water and 23 days without drinkable water. By May 14, four Army Reserve water purification units had departed while National Guard water purification units were on standby.
Governor Schafer appointed Dina Butcher, director of the State Office of Intergovernmental Assistance, as state coordinator for disaster housing. Short- and long-term housing plans established by local, state and federal disaster officials included securing motel and apartment space, dormitory rooms, travel trailers and manufactured homes for flood victims unable to return to their homes. Staffs from the State Office of Intergovernmental Assistance and State Department of Human Services tried to secure housing for up to 90 developmentally-disabled people displaced by flooding.
Meanwhile, the 640-plus residents of Pembina remained evacuated after leaving their homes on April 22. They were not allowed to return until two days later, on May 3, after officials were certain the city water system would meet their usage demands. Drayton residents, however, were allowed to return on May 1. City officials prohibited access to the city after 8 p.m. and placed residents under a 10 p.m. curfew. Also in Pembina County, the National Guard sent a 3,000-gallon water tank and a semi tractor filled with bottled water to the city of Walhalla. The cityís 1,030 residents had been without potable water since April 28 when a water main ruptured.
Of the 20 public shelters that had been established for flood victims throughout the Red River Valley, 16 were still in operation. Groups that provided public shelter included: the American Red Cross, the communities of Devils Lake, Hatton, Jamestown, Lakewood and Park River; St. Rose Catholic Church in Hillsboro; the State Park in Rolette County; the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation; Park River Bible Camp; the Grand Forks Air Force Base; St. Matthewís Church in Thompson; REM Corp; and the N.D. University System to include Valley City State University and Mayville State University. Agencies that provided mass care include the American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, North Dakota churches, N.D. National Guard, U.S. Air Force, REM Corp., Mayville State University, Valley City State University, Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation and local governments.
Health officials received reports of children injured while slipping on the stairs of their homes. An asthmatic patient was in serious condition after participating in flood cleanup efforts in Grand Forks. The Grand Forks Health District treated 12 people for possible exposure to Hepatitis A. An injury surveillance, conducted by the State Department of Health, revealed 37 Grand Forks residents had suffered lacerations or punctures, foreign particles in their eyes, fractures, sprains and other injuries between May 2-5.
By May 2, The Red River continued 11 to 15 feet above flood stage in northeast North Dakota while the level farther upstream at Wahpeton was three feet above its 10-foot flood stage. State DOT workers anticipated that I-29, near Manvel to the Canadian border, would be closed for up to 10 days until two feet of water receded at mile marker 169 between Manvel and Grafton. (The State DOT would open the final 20-mile stretch of I-29, from Joliette to the Canadian border, on May 21.)
To expedite the recovery process, Governor Schafer issued an Executive Order on May 6 suspending statutes and administrative rules dealing with contracting, bidding, licensing and public notices for Red River counties. In Grand Forks, approximately 7,500 customers were still without electrical power and 6,550 without natural gas service. Inspectors were conducting structural, electrical and gas safety inspection before restoring service. Health officials also conducted inspections of the cityís restaurants, bars, grocery stores and gas stations.
As recovery efforts began in earnest, the State EOC downgraded its 24-hour operation. The EOC remained open about 12 hours a day, and a North Dakota Emergency Management React Officer was available after hours. The agencyís Public Assistance and Individual Assistance staff moved to the DFO. Operations also continued at the State EOC as damage inspectors provided reports on the extent of damage in the Red River Valley. The Red Cross conducted its Preliminary Damage Assessment (PDA) of 8,000 North Dakota homes. This PDA indicated 519 homes, 53 mobile homes and 73 apartments had been destroyed by flood waters. The PDA also showed that 701 homes, 69 mobile homes and 175 apartments sustained major damages. Inspectors report that 5,959 homes, 166 mobile homes and 497 apartments received minor damages. The SBA estimated that 5,200 businesses had been destroyed, damaged or affected by both the blizzards and the flood.
Grand Forks continued to receive assistance from relief agencies and donors. Approximately 7,500 households received $2,000 each from the "Angel Fund," established after an anonymous California donor donated $15 million. The Salvation Army, along with Northwest Airlines, provided hundreds of volunteers to help with cleanup efforts. The Red Cross had opened two "drive-thru" sites in Grand Forks and had 32 mobile feeding units throughout the state. Residents of the city of Center and Oliver County adopted Bowesmont and Leroy in Pembina County as part of their "Adopt-a-Town" project. They sponsored a concert, auction and bake sale to raise funds. A month later, the city of Kingman, Arizona, adopted the city of Pembina, establishing the "Relief Fund for North Dakota."
Legal groups also presented information on flood victimsí rights. The Attorney Generalís Office and the State Bar Association of North Dakota conducted a Consumer Education and Legal Rights Issues Forum on May 5 for Grand Forks flood victims. Participants also included the State Insurance Department, Legal Assistance of North Dakota and FEMA.
The National Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster held a special meeting in Fargo on May 9 to coordinate member agenciesí response to the Upper Midwest floods.
Meanwhile, animal carcass disposal efforts concluded in mid-May as field crews finished work in the Red River Valley. The State Department of Agriculture reported that field crews had handled more than 10 million pounds of dead animals, burying 12,000 carcasses and pulling 850 animals from waterways.
Devils Lake flood water problems mounted as runoff began to cause lake rises. Twelve families living on Grahams Island were isolated and the state park closed after flood waters inundated the islandís only access road. The State DOT closed N.D. Highway 57 after lake flood waters overtopped the roadway. The Lake at Creel Bay was at 1,440.14 feet; the elevation of N.D. Highway 57 was 1,440.5 feet. Gusty winds caused lake waters to overtop N.D. Highway 19 and 20, prompting temporary closures of the highways.
After nearly two months of high water levels, the Red River dropped below its 10-foot flood stage at Wahpeton on May 14.
State and federal assistance kept expanding in response to the needs of flood victims. FEMA Director James Lee Witt announced that the eligibility period had been extended until May 17 for 100 percent reimbursement of debris removal and emergency protective measures. Mr. Witt, along with Governor Schafer, addressed 70 participants attending the North Dakota Mitigation Recovery meeting on May 14. Participants reviewed ways to mitigate future flood damages.
North Dakota Emergency Management and FEMA hazard mitigation staffs organized applicant briefings and workshops for local officials, which were held throughout the state on May 20-28. FEMA, State Department of Human Services and State Department Agriculture staff members opened Disaster Recovery Centers throughout North Dakota to provide disaster-related information to flood victims.
The National Guard placed preliminary costs for "Operation Good Neighbor" at nearly 1.5 million. (Final costs would be calculated at $4 million.) To date, more than 1,800 Air and Army Guard members had volunteered for duty since "Operation Good Neighbor" began on March 26. Members had completed 257 missions, with 40 in progress.
The stress of the disaster took its toll on the mental health of North Dakotans. Disaster-related calls to the Mental Health Association in North Dakota increased more than 1,200 in April compared to the previous month. Nearly 200 State Department of Human Services outreach workers were providing crisis counseling throughout North Dakota.
Environmental health issues surfaced as cleanup efforts by residents continued. An assessment by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicated that 450 residential fuel oil tanks were damaged by flooding, releasing fuel oil into basements. Homeowners and business owners began to report problems with mold and fungal growth, which posed a biological threat to residents and response workers.
On May 24, the last day of the disaster incident period, the eighth and final flood disaster-related death occurred. A 22-year-old Minneapolis man died during a single-car accident near Hampden in Ramsey County. His car was found submerged in a slough alongside a flooded county line road that had been closed to traffic.
By May 30, the Red River dropped below flood stage at all North Dakota gauging points.
Also by Mayís end, mass care workers continued to operate four shelters for 281 flood victims. The FEMA/State Disaster Housing Program had placed 425 people in UND dormitories and nearly 100 people in travel trailers. More than 33,000 North Dakotans had reported property damages, and 297 local governments and private nonprofit organizations providing government services had filed Notice of Interest applications to participate in the Public Assistance Program. More than 5,755 farmers, farm workers and self-employed persons applied for Disaster Unemployment Assistance. Job Service had paid $1.24 million thus far in benefits. In addition, Job Service reported that employees were at a premium in Grand Forks. Only 1,157 people had applied for 2,104 temporary and permanent jobs open in Grand Forks.
Governor Schafer continued to place emphasis on an expedited recovery throughout the summer. On June 3, Governor Schafer met with members of the North Dakota Legislative Council to provide an update on response and recovery work. A week later, on June 10, he appointed Major General Murray Sagsveen, a Bismarck attorney, as State Flood Recovery Coordinator.
Disaster workers and victims received welcome news in June when the deadline for individuals and businesses to register for assistance was extended from June 6 to July 7. Also, Job Service received a $1.5 million grant for flood recovery jobs for its Disaster Assistance Program. The agency had already received $1 million for the program. Those individuals whose homes did not flood, but who were affected by the disaster, became eligible for FEMAís Mortgage and Rental Assistance Program if disaster-related conditions prevented them from meeting their monthly rent or mortgage payments. FEMA Community Relations workers visited more than 10,000 people and answered their questions about disaster aid.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also provided needed funds, allocating $50 million in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds for expedited disaster relief to Grand Forks and $60 million for other flood-affected communities. The State Office of Intergovernmental Assistance also provided funding for flood recovery efforts. The agency earmarked $4.4 million through CDBG money and HOME funds, which was designated for rehabilitation of existing homes and construction of new homes.
Devils Lake residents also received encouraging news. Dry conditions in the Devils Lake Basin had slowed the rise of Devils Lake, prompting the NWS to revise its predicted crest. The new forecast called for the lake to rise to a minimum of 1,443 feet by mid-July, one-half foot less than earlier predicted. The highest predicted crest remained at 1,444 feet.
On June 6, FEMA released a report that 4,983 Grand Forks housing applicants had been relocated throughout North Dakota. For those still living in shelters and visiting mass care centers, the North Dakota Psychological Association and the Red Cross provided mental health assistance. The North Dakota State University (NDSU) Extension Service provided one-on-one counseling service to disaster-affected farmers in the state.
The State EOC continued its monitoring of injuries among flood victims. The State Department of Health reported that 29 Grand Forks area residents were exposed to elevated levels of carbon monoxide while cleaning their flood-damaged homes. They had been operating gas-powered water pumps or power washers. State health officials also released a report that 2,854 patients were treated by Altru Hospital emergency staff from May 2, the hospitalís first day of operation, to June 5.
Recovery efforts also continued as the N.D. Hazard Mitigation Grant Program finalized buyout plans on June 16 for the city of Bowesmont. Twenty-two structures, including 14 homes, that had been subject to repeat flooding were relocated out of the Red River floodplain. Also on June 16, SBA loans to disaster victims had exceeded $100 million.
By June 24, the State Hazard Mitigation Team had approved $17.6 million for acquisition of substantially flood-damaged homes in Fargo, Grand Forks, and Wahpeton. In affect, this meant hundreds of homes would be taken permanently out of the flood plain, reducing the chances of repetitive flood recovery costs in the future.
North Dakota again received more encouraging news when President Clinton notified FEMA on June 18 that the federal share for total eligible Public Assistance costs was increased from 75 to 90 percent. State and local shares now totaled 10 percent. Reimbursement for debris removal and emergency protective measures remained at 100 percent.
Also, the State Commissioner of Agriculture announced that North Dakota livestock producers who suffered losses as a result of severe winter weather and spring flooding may be compensated under the Livestock Indemnity Program. The program made available $50 million nationwide.
In response to the need for expanded tribal emergency management services, which became apparent during the blizzards and floods, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe hosted the Upper Midwest Tribal-FEMA Partnership Meeting at Fort Yates on June 24-25. Those in attendance represented 25 tribes in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Minnesota, as well as state and federal disaster workers.
While eastern counties forged ahead with flood recovery work, flooding problems became more pronounced in western North Dakota. In Williams County, the Missouri River at Williston crested at 27.5 feet on June 18, 7.5 feet above its 20-foot flood stage. Hundreds of acres of beets and alfalfa were flooding in the Buford-Trenton Bottoms area. Oil companies temporarily suspended pumping operations.
Runoff from the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers were forcing Lake Sakakawea to rise to its second highest level in 22 years. The reservoir level on June 25 reached 1,852.9 feet. The highest recorded level was 1,854.8 feet in 1975. As a result, the USACE increased releases from Garrison Dam from 44,000 cfs to 47,000 cfs. This caused bank erosion, agricultural flooding, and some residential flooding from the Garrison down through the Bismarck area and south.
A weekend of thunderstorms caused Devils Lake to rise to 1,442.48 feet on July 2. Heavy rainfall also contributed to high inflows into Garrison Dam, requiring the USACE to increase releases from 50,000 cfs to 55,000 cfs on July 3, then to 57,000 cfs on July 5, and finally to 58,000 cfs on July 9. Residents along the Morton and Burleigh Counties sides of the Missouri River rip-rap and sandbag their properties.
Throughout July, disaster workers were in the field, assisting flood victims with their recovery. The North Dakota Rural Survival Task Force distributed to rural residents packets about available disaster assistance. State and federal disaster workers opened an information center on July 18 at the North Dakota State Fair in Minot. An Unmet Needs Coordinator began working on July 21 with the North Dakota Disaster Recovery Team. Her duties included assisting with the long-term needs of disaster victims.
The 366 employees hired through Job Serviceís Disaster Assistance Program were also in the field, performing recovery work. These workers helped with numerous flood-related jobs, from staffing day cares to managing the warehouse for undesignated goods. By late July, Job Service had received a $2 million grant to fund flood recovery jobs, bringing the total amount of funds received from the Job Training Partnership Act to $4.5 million. The grant allowed Job Service to increase the number of workers to 450.
Grand Forks city and county officials assumed the responsibility from state officials on July 15 for management of donated goods. Previously, the North Dakota League of Cities had coordinated the effort while Adventist Community Services managed the distribution sites.
By mid-July, The Salvation Army reported that it had distributed 18,053 cleanup kits, and volunteers had logged more than 83,144 hours for flood-relief efforts.
As part as of state recovery assistance, the State Industrial Commission approved a $25 million line of credit for the city of Grand Forks to cover costs until FEMA funds and other disaster aid arrived. The State Office of Intergovernmental Assistance awarded a $50,000 grant to the Energy and Environmental Research Center in Grand Forks to offer consulting services on energy efficiency for flood-damaged businesses, non-profit organizations and individuals. To eliminate the chance of contractor fraud, the State Attorney Generalís Office issued a public service announcement urging Grand Forks residents to request contractors to show state-issued identification cards.
The State Electrical Board was also in the midst of flood-recovery work, providing training for inspectors hired on a temporary basis to help the city of Grand Forks. Two board employees were also helping with inspections. The board expected to complete 3,000 inspections by September. Approximately 11,000 wiring certificates had been issued to electricians working in Grand Forks. Of those, 9,000 had been submitted to the cityís electrical inspection section. Last year, the board only issued 849 certificates to Grand Forks electricians.
On July 21, Rick Weiland, FEMAís new director for Region VIII, toured flood-damaged areas and met with state and local officials in Grand Forks, Devils Lake and Bismarck.
In Grand Forks, demolition of flood-damaged structures began on July 21. These unstable structures were condemned by the city for posing an imminent health and/or public safety threat. Plans called for removing 20 structures each week.
As Devils Lake rose to 1,443 feet, its highest recorded level, the SCO and FCO signed a memorandum of understanding on July 31 about the eligibility of flood damages in the Devils Lake Basin. They agreed FEMA will consider applications for private and public assistance if these damages occurred during the incident period, February 28 to May 24. Staffs for the State Water Commission, USACE and FEMAís Geographic Information Systems began work on compiling a hazard mitigation database. The database included geographic reference points and elevations of structures in the Devils Lake Basin.
Preliminary findings of the NWSí Red River of the North Flood Study were also released on July 31. The study indicated that bridges and backwater in the Grand Forks area caused the river to rise by an additional three feet during the flood. The review committee was examining ways to enhance river forecasting procedures, as well as improve communications between the NWS and the public.
Also by July 31, approximately 134 Grand Forks area residents had moved from UND dormitory rooms to travel trailers, manufactured homes, their repaired homes or rented homes and apartments. The move is expected to be completed July 31. Of the 129 manufactured homes installed at Princeton and Industrial (later named First Season) mobile home parks, 51 have been leased. Another five have been placed at private and public lots in outlying areas.
North Dakota again became the recipient of federal disaster funds on August 6 when the Secretary of U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that the state and its communities would receive $201.3 million in grants from the agencyís Development Disaster Recovery Initiative. Communities receiving funds were primarily located in the Red River Valley, although Mercer County was named as a recipient.
August 6 also marked the final day for North Dakotans to register for individual assistance. A total of 36,494 North Dakotas had reported personal property damages to FEMAís National Teleregistration Center. The number of applicants was double the amount of recipients from Minnesota and South Dakota.
The following day, the Agriculture Disaster Response Center closed. The center offered assistance to more than 1,850 producers. They also coordinated the statewide effort to collect and dispose of more than 11 million pounds of animal carcasses and to distribute thousands of dollars worth of fence posts donated by out-of-state manufacturers and dealers.
The State/Federal DFO, located on South Second Street in Bismarck, moved to the Manhattan Life Building, Bismarck, on August 8.
Devils Lake became the focal point of national interest as Major General Phillip R. Anderson, Commander of the Mississippi Valley Division of the USACE, met with local and state officials in Devils Lake on August 12. The next day, national and regional representatives of FEMAís Infrastructure Program, along with state officials, visited the Devils Lake Basin, as well as the Grand Forks area.
In Grand Forks, unmet needs identified among residents living in manufactured homes provided by FEMA included a lack of laundry and transportation services. A local senior citizens organization faced difficulty establishing a bus service schedule that could meet residentsí needs. Other shortfalls identified by the Aging Services Division of the State Department of Human Services included a lack of adult day care programs for elderly and disabled residents and a lack of air conditioners for residents of the manufactured homes.
Red Cross assistance continued as the relief organization reported $9 million had been spent on its disaster and recovery work in North Dakota and Minnesota. In North Dakota, staff members had handled 11,580 cases.
Acquisition of flood-damaged homes continued as a priority for recovery efforts as the staffs for North Dakota Emergency Management and FEMA announced on August 15 that a total of $27.3 million has been approved to date for the acquisition of over 400 substantially flood-damaged homes and structures in the Red River Valley.
As fall and winter encroached, recovery efforts emphasized the need to relocate disaster victims from travel trailers to permanent housing or manufactured homes provided by FEMA. On September 4, there were 321 families living in travel trailers. The Disaster Housing Program had received 248 requests for mobile homes. Of the 306 manufactured homes in the Red River Valley, 211 were leased and occupied. The other homes were being prepared for occupancy.
Public Assistance inspectors completed work on Damage Survey Reports for most western North Dakota counties. By September 18, the Satellite Field Office in Jamestown closed, leaving satellite offices still open in Fargo and Grand Forks and the main DFO open in Bismarck.
Job Service reported that 643 people had been employed through the $4.5 million in Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) grants. Of those workers, 346 were still employed.
As winter approached, outreach workers for State Department of Human Services Crisis Counseling Program discovered an increased level of anxiety among flood survivors. Families were experiencing more strife, and some children were avoiding school. Flood survivors said they felt as if they were in limbo until civic leaders made decisions related to property acquisitions and floodplain management. They also expressed concern about the potential for flooding next spring and their communityís level of preparedness for such a possibility. The Rural Survival Task Force held 10 stress workshops throughout North Dakota during October and November.
In preparation for winter, manufactured homes were being winterized. Tasks included insulating skirting on homes and hot water heaters, as needed, sealing windows, and weatherizing exterior doors. Of the 311 manufactured homes, 242 were now occupied.
The State EOC received a report from FEMA that home repair grants for damages associated with the disaster were 50 percent above the national average. The average national grant was $2,000 compared to $3,300 for this disaster. To date, 24,447 eligible applicants have received more than $53 million in minimal repair, transient assistance and rental assistance grants through the Disaster Housing Program.
Meanwhile, assistance continued as the North Dakota Community Foundation approved $1.29 million in grants for Red River Valley agencies, organizations and governmental entities that suffered damages during the flood. The residents of Reading, Pa., sent 2,500 winter coats to Grand Forks residents. They also donated $4,500 for hats, gloves, snow pants and other cold-weather gear.
North Dakota Emergency Management conducted a risk assessment of selected areas in North Dakota in order to assist local authorities to identify and implement mitigation measures to reduce or prevent flooding in the spring of 1998.
On October 11, Job Service made the last Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) payments. Grand Forks County had the highest number of DUA claimants and the highest dollar amount paid. The county had 1,642 individuals who were paid $1,262,339. Nine other counties had over $100,000 in DUA payments. They included Barnes, Cass, Cavalier, McIntosh, Pembina, Ramsey, Stutsman, Traill, and Walsh Counties. In addition, $3,382,358 was paid in flood-related state unemployment benefits to 7,237 individuals between April 21 and September 30.
On October 30, Governor Schafer signed an Executive Order to extend the waiver of state bidding requirements for the city of Grand Forks through November 28.
The National Guard made preparations to end its final disaster-related work in November. Since June 13, National Guard and Grand Forks Mission employees had been using the kitchen facility at the Grand Forks Armory to prepare meals for Mission clients. This work ended on November 15. Other flood-recovery work included winterizing and storing 500 travel trailers.
In a Thanksgiving letter to North Dakotans, Governor Schafer declared Thanksgiving 1997 as a Day of Prayer in North Dakota for all victims of the 1997 disaster. He stated in his letter that flood victims had received support from 50,000 relief agency volunteers, and warehouses full of donated food, clothing and supplies from every state. Relief agencies provided 2 million meals to flood victims.
In early December, North Dakota Emergency Management staff completed a Risk Assessment in portions of the state affected most by the spring flood. Two teams made up of planners, floodplain experts and engineers worked with officials of 18 counties to look at what effects flooding had or could have on their jurisdictions. The purpose was to identify long-term and immediate actions that could be implemented to reduce future flood losses and hardships.
Grand Forks residents and businesses received an early Christmas present as the North Dakota Tax Commissioner and Internal Revenue Service granted a second extension for filing 1996 income tax returns. The deadline was extended to January 13.
During the holidays, Red River Valley flood victims received donations and gifts from organizations throughout the nation. Those donations include a $2 million donation for rebuilding efforts from First American Bank, Bremer Financial and the Otto Bremer Foundation. A Marshfield, Wis., church organized the "Red River Valley Christmas" campaign and sent a tractor-trailer load of donated goods. North Dakotans sent Christmas ornaments to Grand Forks residents, and school children sent toys and games to Grand Forks schools.
Governor Schafer requested additional federal assistance on December 11, asking the USDA for a Secretarial Disaster Designation for all eligible North Dakota counties. This additional disaster assistance would provide emergency loans and debt restructuring to agricultural producers and agricultural-related businesses. State and local USDA Emergency Boards compiled damage assessment reports to support the request and assist in eligibility determination.
On New Yearís Day, a fire at Belmont Elementary School in Grand Forks destroyed temporary classrooms and a food facility established after last springís flood caused extensive flood damage to the school. Within a few days, FEMA and North Dakota Emergency Management had approved a $649,000 grant to the Grand Forks School District to help with restoration of the fire-damaged buildings.
With January came the anniversary of the first of North Dakotaís two catastrophic disasters. On January 12, Governor Schafer commemorated the one-year anniversary of the first Presidential Major Disaster Declaration for a Snow Disaster by announcing an initiative to plant 100 miles of living snow fences. By planting rows of trees, supporters of the effort hope to reduce snow drifting on roads, save the state $1 million annually in snow removal costs and reduce the number of road closures. The Governor related that the interstate system had closed 11 times because of snow and blizzard conditions in 1997.
As the new year began, state, federal and local governments and their residents also turned their attention to preparedness efforts for a potential spring flood.
The International Joint Commission issued 40 short-term recommendations to prepare for potential floods in the Red River Basin in the next two years. They included: alerting Red River Basin residents to the reality that there is a statistical probability each year of a flood similar to the 1997 flood; conducting a meeting of senior federal, Canadian, provincial and state officials in each country to undertake policy-level discussions and examination of the flood; increasing liaison among emergency management organizations throughout the Red River Basin; increasing adherence to floodplain management policies and encouraging participation in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP); implementing flood-proof mitigation measures for individuals and communities; updating and enhancing existing forecast models based on 1997 data and experience; and, monitoring the effects of El Nino on 1998 weather.
In early January, the State EOC received word that Red River Basin river water flows under the ice were as much as 200 percent of normal for this time of year. Devils Lake waters promised to pose a threat for the seventh year. Lake waters had frozen around 1,442 feet. The lake had been at that level throughout late summer and fall, defying a recent trend for the lake. Until last year, the lake had been following a pattern of steep increases in the spring, peaking in July, falling slightly in the fall, and rising somewhat through the winter.
As part of their preparedness plans, North Dakota, Minnesota and federal officials met in Fargo on January 13 to develop plans for possible ice dusting missions. Last spring, the National Guard and State DOT had applied sand to the Sheyenne and Red Rivers in an effort enhance snow melt, reduce the formation of ice jams and improve the flow of water during the spring melt.
North Dakota Emergency Management and the USACE sponsored several interagency flood preparedness meetings in late January for local officials during the week at various locations along the Red River of the North.
State emergency management officials received encouraging news about participation in the NFIP. Statewide, the total number of policies grew from 3,872 to 12,445 in 1997, representing a 321 percent increase in the number of policies. Additionally, there were 277 North Dakota communities enrolled in the NFIP in 1997 compared to 241 in 1996.
Many of the new NFIP policies were purchased by Grand Forks residents as part of their disaster aid requirements. A survey of approximately 1,500 Grand Forks residents by the UNDís Bureau of Governmental indicated that only 19.8 percent had purchased flood insurance before the 1997 spring flood disaster. The Bureau also surveyed Grand Forks city residents about their reasons for not purchasing flood insurance. The Bureau director said approximately 76 percent of the respondents did not think the Red River would crest above 49 feet. (The river crested at 54.1 feet.) Seventy percent believed that dikes and other flood control measures would prevent personal property damage, and 58 percent did not think that a flood would ever damage their homes. The State Department of Insurance and the Institute for Business and Home Safety in Boston sponsored the survey.
As flood preparedness work began, disaster recovery remained a priority. By mid-January, local North Dakota government had acquired 316 homes as part of the fastest acquisition program in the stateís and FEMAís history. The acquisition project is approximately one-half of the way toward its goal of acquiring 626 substantially-damaged properties, through local government purchases. Additional homes have, and will be, acquired with other funds, such as CDBG funding. North Dakota Emergency Management hired a cultural resource field worker to complete historical evaluations on Grand Forks homes located in floodplains and targeted for acquisition.
On January 12, the State of North Dakota, FEMA and the city of Grand Forks signed an agreement that turned over FEMAís manufactured housing program to the state. Under the terms of the agreement, the manufactured housing program transitions from FEMA to the state, and in turn, to the city of Grand Forks, which will administer the program through its Housing Authority. Costs will be covered by FEMA, and the state will maintain an oversight role. At the time of the agreement, there were 192 occupied manufactured homes, including 158 at First Seasons Park, 28 at Princeton Park and six at private/commercial sites.
In his 1998 State of the State Address on January 22, Governor Schafer praised the resilience of North Dakotans to rebuild the state after last yearís catastrophic flooding. While disaster recovery is ongoing, Governor Schafer stated that the following steps must be taken to prevent similar widespread damages in the future: purchase of homes in flood-prone areas along the entire Red River Valley to keep people and property out of the most dangerous places; completion of a risk assessment of the Red River Valley to pinpoint flood-related risks that might cause problems in future floods; "disaster proof" registers of deeds offices to protect critical property and tax records; and re-examine floodplain regulations to ensure they are adequate.
Throughout January, North Dakota continued to receive disaster aid. Governor Schafer received notification that North Dakota had been approved for a Secretarial Disaster Designation by the USDA. The governor requested the designation based on major flooding, excessive precipitation, serious drought, severe heat, insect perils, disease, hail and damaging wind conditions that occurred throughout the state from May 1 through October 31.
The State Office of Intergovernmental Assistance received its final allocation of $3.5 million in CDBG funds for flood-related recovery work. In total, the agency had received $10.2 million in CDBG funds from HUD for infrastructure repair, rental and owner-occupied building rehabilitation and new construction projects. In total, the State of North Dakota, Grand Forks, Ramsey County/Devils Lake, Fargo, Richland, Grand Forks, Cass, Pembina, Traill, Walsh and Mercer Counties received a total of $201.2 million in CDBG funds.
In other flood-recovery work, the Office of Intergovernmental Assistanceís Energy Office approved 3,650 furnace rebates for Red River Valley residents whose homes and furnaces were damaged during the 1997 flood. Rebates totaling $730,000 were issued to owners of single-family dwellings who had purchased replacement high efficiency natural gas or propane furnaces between March 1 and December 31, 1997.
In addition to federal funds, North Dakota also received money from private organizations for flood-recovery work. The State Department of Health and the Grand Forks Public Health Department received more than $650,000 in flood-related funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. One grant funded an epidemiological surveillance program of flood-related physical and mental health problems. A second grant was used by the State Department of Health to study post-flood changes in health insurance coverage rates and utilization of health care services. A third grant placed three public health nurses in Grand Forks for two years, where they will provide services to public schools serving flood-displaced students, senior citizens and residents of temporary housing units.
North Dakotans counted their blessings in early February as the affects of El Nino translated into a warm and dry winter. El Nino, an unusual warming of eastern tropical Pacific Ocean waters that affects global weather patterns, was expected to result in warmer temperatures and normal to slightly below normal precipitation for North Dakota through June.
The outlook, released February 13, indicated that with current conditions and future normal precipitation and temperatures minor snowmelt flooding could occur in the Red River Valley. Minor snowmelt flooding was defined by the NWS as a general term indicating "minimal or no property damage, but possibly some public inconvenience." While river ice and soil frost levels were below normal, soil moisture was normal to above normal. The Red River had above normal base flows because of the regionís high water table.
Hydrologists did not expect flooding to occur in the Missouri, James and Souris River Basins. Devils Lake residents, however, received more disconcerting news. NWS expected Devils Lake to rise to 1,443.5 or 1,444 feet by May or June. If spring weather is warmer and drier than normal, the crest could occur in May or June instead of mid-summer. The lake level is currently at 1,442.7 feet. Last July, the lake rose to 1,443 feet, the highest level in recorded history. A one-foot rise in Devils Lake waters this year could cause up to $20 million to $30 million in additional damages to property and roads, the State Engineer has reported. A one-foot rise will enlarge the lake to around 105,000 acres, an increase of 5,000 acres from last summer. Approximately five more shoreline homes would be lost if the lake rises one foot, according to the Ramsey County Emergency Manager.
Two weeks later, after a blizzard blanketed the state, the NWS upgraded the spring flood potential for the Red River Valley. This revised forecast called for minor to moderate flooding in the Red River Valley. Snow depths measured up to eight inches and contain up to three inches of water equivalent. Moderate flooding indicated that evacuation may be required, inundation of secondary roads may occur, and property may have to be relocated to a higher elevation.
Recent rain and snowfall and unseasonably mild temperatures caused gradual increases in river levels throughout the Red River Basin. These factors pushed river levels near or above flood stage. The Red River rose to 24.3 feet at Fargo; flood stage is 17 feet. Upstream, the river was nearing its 10-foot stage at Wahpeton. On February 27, the Wild Rice River at Abercrombie was 3.49 feet above its 10-foot flood stage. Meanwhile, the Sheyenne River at Cooperstown has risen to 11.73 feet; flood stage is 12 feet. These levels are not expected to cause major threats to property and people.
The revised Spring Snowmelt Flood Outlook narrative report also called for Devils Lake to rise to 1,444 to 1,444.5 feet, a one-half-foot increase over the February 13 forecast. Precipitation over the Devils Lake Basin in February averaged one-half to 1.5 inches above normal. The level of Devils Lake at Creel Bay had reached 1,442.86 feet on February 27.
Concerns about future flooding continued into February as staff for the St. Paul District of the USACE presented two options for permanent protective measures for the city of Grand Forks. The Grand Forks and East Grand Forks City Councils selected a levees-only protection system to protect their cities against future flooding. The levee system, one of two options presented by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), was estimated to cost approximately $300.6 million. The other option was a levee-diversion combination with a preliminary price tag of $932.2 million. That option proved too cost prohibitive. The selection of the levees-only system means the USACE would begin work with state and local officials to develop project details for subsequent federal review.
Other levees built in preparation for last springís flood came under review. A coordinated, senior-level interagency team began work with local governments to determine whether temporary levees should be removed, relocated or allowed to stay in place. Agencies represented included representatives of North Dakota Emergency Management, State Water Commission, the NFIP, FEMA and USACE.
During February, FEMA awarded more than $2.2 million in Public Assistance funds for construction upgrades that will protect the Grand Forks water treatment plant. The project would include protect flood-proofing work, elevation of monitoring devices and upgrades to basement equipment. Project plans call for the facility to operate independently for up to two weeks during a major flooding event.
State and federal disaster recovery officials announced February 19 that FEMA has approved $524,039 for Minnewaukanís new sewage lagoon. This funding will partially reimburse eligible costs that Minnewaukan has incurred since 1995 to replace its sewage lagoon, which has been inundated by Devils Lake flood waters.
Other federal aid included $700,000 that the Bank of North Dakota received from the Affordable Housing Program of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines, Iowa. The funds were used to assist low-income residents with home repairs.
In early March, flooding predictions changed for eastern North Dakota after the Red River rose above flood stage at Grand Forks, Drayton and Oslo, Minn., causing limited flooding in low-lying areas. Rain and snowfall caused gradual increases in river levels throughout the Red River Basin. Unseasonably mild temperatures resulted in additional runoff, which contributed to the rises. The Red River crested at 39.8 feet in Grand Forks on March 5. Flood stage is 28 feet. In response to river rises, city officials placed a crisafulli pump at Belmont Road and 15th Avenue to pump water off the Lincoln Park Golf Course. The river dropped below flood stage at Grand Forks on March 12.
Downstream in Walsh County, rises in the Red River caused limited flooding in low-lying areas. The river crested at 34.5 feet at nearby Oslo on March 10. The river dropped below its 28-foot flood stage by March 13. Limited flooding also occurred in Pembina County. Snow-blocked drains caused water to flow over two township roads. Basement seepage was reported throughout the county because of the areaís high water table. The river at Drayton rose to 35.8 feet on March 10, and dropped below its 32-foot flood stage on March 16.
Revised predictions now called for moderate to major spring flooding could occur along the Pembina River, from the Canadian border to the riverís confluence with the Red River. The outlook called for the river at Walhalla to rise to 15 feet; flood stage is 11 feet. The flood of record level is 16.2 feet. The river at Neche is forecasted to rise to 24 feet. Flood of record was 24.5 feet in 1997. (The river would crest at 20.6 feet at Neche and at 12 feet at Pembina on March 29.)
The outlook also calls for Devils Lake to peak more than 2 ‡ feet higher than the 1997 record level of 1,443 feet. If precipitation is above normal and evaporation is below normal, the lake could peak at 1,445.5 feet or higher. If precipitation is below normal, the lake could peak below 1,445 feet.
State Emergency Management officials and the State Flood Disaster Recovery Coordinator now estimated that the state share for the disaster recovery costs related to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) programs implemented through the Major Presidential Disaster Declaration of April 7, 1997, will total about $18.5 million. This remains an estimate as final repair liabilities and costs are still undetermined.
By March 18, FEMA and State Emergency Management Public Assistance staffs to date had received 4,376 Damage Survey Reports (DSRs) and had obligated funds for 4,133 DSRs. Survey work had been completed for 410 of the 440 applicants for the 1997 flood. At this time, nearly $121.3 million in infrastructure repairs, emergency work and debris removal had been determined to be eligible statewide
The 1997 Spring Flood Individual and Family Grant Program, administered by North Dakota Emergency Management, has approved to date nearly $14.2 million in grants to individuals for flood losses. The average IFGP grant is $1,341. The staff has closed 23,244 cases.
The North Dakota Hazard Mitigation Team had obligated the entire $37 million available through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) for projects designed to reduce or eliminate the risk of future flooding statewide. By mid-March, nearly $31 million of those available funds had been approved, or were pending FEMA approval. Projects included acquisition of properties in floodplains and infrastructure enhancements to include sluice gates, flap gates and lift stations.
The Small Business Administration (SBA) has approved a total of $182 million in low-interest loans for businesses and individuals. To date, the SBA has received 11,707 loan applications, 6,967 of which have been approved. Of the total amount of money loaned, 54 percent were to home owners and renters for real estate and personal property losses, and 46 percent were to business owners for repairs to businesses and for lost income.
To date, 24,491 awards had been approved for nearly $54.2 million in Disaster Housing assistance provided by FEMA.
By March 23, North Dakota Emergency Management and FEMA had approved the city of Grand Forksí application to begin demolishing 49 flood-damaged homes in the Lincoln Park area. The city was acquiring homes under the Federal/State Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) and the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Although approximately 700 homes may eventually be part of the acquisition process, this initial group of homes was identified by the city for the first round of demolitions.
In its final report, Job Service North Dakota reported that it had placed 803 people to work at 49 job sites as part of its Disaster Assistance Program (DAP). The program assisted workers who lost their jobs because of a disaster and public agencies and private nonprofit agencies in need of help with their recovery efforts. DAP was funded by Title III of the Jobs Training Partnership Act on April 22, 1997, under the National Reserve Account Disaster Program. Job Service received a total of $4.5 million for the program. The effective ending date is April 30, 1998, but Job Service has requested an extension through June 30, 1998. The first workers started May 12, 1997. Workers performed flood-related work in Grand Forks, Spirit Lake Nation at Devils Lake, Wahpeton and Mayville. To date, 284 workers were still employed.
The Federal/State Disaster Field Office (DFO) in Bismarck and the Satellite DFO in Grand Forks closed March 20. A small FEMA program staff was slated to remain in the state until May to continue to work with North Dakota Emergency Management on remaining recovery issues.
The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) reported that it paid $83.6 million for claims filed by North Dakotans between April 2 and May 27.
North Dakota Emergency Management issued its final Situation Report on the 1997 spring flood on March 23.