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Letter: During flood fight, refugees pitched in

Having covered the Flood of '97 and its aftermath for the Star Tribune (during my 20-year "leave" from the Herald), I've enjoyed the good work the Herald has done remembering that defining time.

It might be appropriate now, as we consider who we are and what kind of community we want to be, for me to recall one of the stories I wrote during the recovery, about six young men from the Twin Cities who volunteered to help.

Chuol Nyuot, 24, and James Tang, 33, were from the Sudan. Kamaran Hasan, 35, and Jamal Khoshnaw, 36, were Kurds from Iraq. Mabelu Mequanint, 25, was from Ethiopia. And Geoffrey Riri, 23, was from Kenya.


They had fled terrible circumstances in their homelands and were resettled in Minnesota by the international aid organization World Relief. Mequanint had been in the United States just one week. "I wanted to come," he said, explaining that he had seen pictures of the flooding. "I don't have money, but I will help them."

They tore sandbags from farm fields near Drayton, N.D., then helped clean the house and collapsing basement of a 77-year-old woman in Grand Forks. "I don't know what I would have done without them," she said at the time. "That was really a shock when they introduced themselves and told where they're from. But I couldn't ask for a better crew."

Why did they come?

"In a disaster, there is an emptiness in being in some people," Riri said. "Sometimes it is possible to be very strong, even when you are suffering. But sometimes you need someone to reassure you, to help you be strong.

"We have all been there," he said, gesturing toward the others. "We have all seen disaster in so many ways: war, famine, drought, flood. We know how it feels."

Chuck Haga

Grand Forks

Haga is a retired Herald staff writer.