Grand Forks, East Grand Forks leaders meet at Sorlie Bridge to remember 1997 flood
Cindy Beyer spoke over a chilly wind whooshing over the Sorlie Bridge between Grand Forks and East Grand Forks on Saturday afternoon as a knot of leaders, from now and yesteryear, remembered the Flood of 1997.
The former Grand Forks City Council member remembered stories of neighbors worried about one another in the middle of disaster, exemplifying the community's selfless spirit—and of taking a call from a flood-prevention volunteer who, as waters were rising, made the difficult call to evacuate his area, a moment that captured the leadership many in the community had thrust upon them during a trying time.
Beyer's comments were part of a stream of remembrance in a roughly half-hour gathering held at the center of the Sorlie Bridge, where the mayor of both Grand Forks and East Grand Forks met for a low-key ceremony to mark the flood's 20th anniversary. Delegates from both communities were at the event to share stories and remember the community's struggle back to stability.
"It's so simple to be mayor," said Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown, who was elected three years after the flood. "My job is to say thanks."
A handful of those who were in positions of leadership during the flood or in the years immediately after were there. Besides Beyer, former City Council President Hal Gershman spoke briefly, as did former U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy.
The event felt less like a formal ceremony and more like a free-flowing conversation, during which those gathered spoke a few words about their memories of the flood. Pomeroy in particular spoke multiple times, remembering the numbers behind the flood—50,000 evacuated, 11 buildings burned and no one killed—as well as the hard work of those whose efforts saved homes in the area.
"Even when we'd been licked, the damn dike had been topped ... they never quit," he said.
The past week saw the recognition of the flood's anniversary not only from the city, which issued a resolution marking it, but also from the Legislature and Gov. Doug Burgum.
Saturday's event was low-key, and memories of the flood still conjure strong emotions for those who lived through it. But it offered a chance to reflect.
"I think it's appropriate as mayor Brown has said, to commemorate the the 20 years of our departure for the flood, and the 20 years of building that's happened since," East Grand Forks Mayor Steve Gander said, commending the business growth that he's seen surge into the community over the past decade. "It's not that we have to have any big fanfare about it, but it is important."