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In wake of hurricanes, Grand Forks leaders consider ways to help

In Florida, people are still rebuilding after Hurricane Irma. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

It's been 20 years since the Flood of 1997 submerged much of Grand Forks, and city leaders say the catastrophe has been on their minds as hurricanes have ripped through southeastern Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

After 1997 floodwaters receded, Grand Forks was left reeling. Ruined belongings piled up on berms as residents took stock. In coming years, hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid poured into the community to help it recover and protect against the next time the Red River bursts its banks.

City Council member Bret Weber recalled as much at Monday's City Council meeting, suggesting city leaders consider an official aid effort.

"This is the 20th anniversary of our flood. Again, I don't know if it would be financial, or some other official form of response," Weber said after the meeting. "But it seems like an opportunity—even an obligation—for Grand Forks, 20 years after its flood, to embrace some opportunity to outreach to those communities."

Asked about Weber's comments, City Council member Danny Weigel added that he'd be happy to help, too. He was only about 10 years old in 1997, and recalls the flood in a series of images—less than a foot of water in his family's basement, but a veritable lake in his grandmother's, or the Salvation Army truck providing meals and cleanup help. He said he's willing to do as much as visit for a week to help in person.

"Anytime you get a major natural disaster like that, you pray for the best, hope for the best that people are going to come through it and come out on the other end stronger than they began," he said.

Leaders of local charitable groups said that the best way to coordinate aid packages is by sending money. While sending clothing, for example, can be a tempting prospect, Lt. Matthew Beatty of the Grand Forks Salvation Army said logistical concerns such as transportation costs, storage and distribution make financial aid simpler from Grand Forks' distance.

Both Beatty and Pat Berger, president and CEO of the Grand Forks' United Way, said donations to their charitable groups could help.

Though the local Salvation Army has already collected about $5,000 in donations for hurricane relief, Beatty said, more can be donated at SalvationArmyUSA.org. Berger suggested donating to local United Way groups where hurricane relief is needed.

"The best thing is cash. I know people want to massively send bottled water, whatever—(send) money," said. "It's a lot easier to get it down there. It works faster. You don't have the transportation problems."

Sam Easter

Sam Easter is a City Government reporter for the Grand Forks Herald. You can reach him with story tips, comments and ideas at 701-330-3441.

(701) 780-1108
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