Remembering the flood of '97: Red River breaks through 15 years ago today
Fifteen years ago today, on Friday, April 18, 1997, it became clear the Red River had won. o Boils began to appear in the dike protecting Grand Forks' Lincoln Park area around 4:15 a.m. Ordered by the city to evacuate before dawn, neighborhood re...
Fifteen years ago today, on Friday, April 18, 1997, it became clear the Red River had won.
• Boils began to appear in the dike protecting Grand Forks' Lincoln Park area around 4:15 a.m. Ordered by the city to evacuate before dawn, neighborhood residents, including 106 in the Almonte nursing home, left.
A few blocks away, the surging river poured over a 12-foot-high dike on Lincoln Drive, roaring like a waterfall and threatening to blow open the dike.
• By 6 a.m., the city had ordered the evacuation of neighborhoods near Central and Riverside parks.
The TV emergency channel blared the official warning: "Riverside, Central Park, Lincoln Park areas, please leave at once. Critical areas at this time are the Olson Drive and Elmwood Drive areas. Take with you medication, pillow, blankets, immediate clothing needs."
• Most of East Grand Forks was under order to evacuate; 400 additional National Guard troops were en route.
• The growing threat contrasted with the bright spring sky filled with birds singing and temperatures rising to the 60s for the first time in April. People by the thousands turned out in short-sleeves for a last-ditch effort to hold dikes.
• Grand Forks Mayor Pat Owens interrupted local TV programming to urge all city residents to leave town and be ready for a forced evacuation by National Guard troops if necessary.
• Fireplace logs, plastic snowmen, sofa cushions and chunks of ice drifted past in the rapid current, sweeping past stacks of sandbags, shovels and piles of sand.
• A sandbagging operation in East Grand Forks turned into a crisis when a dike holding back the Red Lake River gave way around 3:30 p.m., flooding The Point. Emergency crews with heavy machinery gave up trying to fix the dike and began evacuating residents.
• That evening water had breached the dikes and seeped up through the sewers in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. In low-lying neighborhoods, such as Lincoln Park, the water was roof-level.
News reports described the sounds of rushing streams of water surging down deserted streets, mixed with the whumping of Coast Guard helicopters and the roaring of the sirens.
• The Grand Forks emergency operations center was forced to move from downtown police station basement to UND around 9:40 p.m. Within about 30 minutes, water had filled the basement of the police station.
• By 10 p.m., the Red had reached 52.8 feet, up from 51.55 feet when the day started. The National Weather Service was criticized for underestimating the crest. Forecasters had moved it from 49 feet, then to 50, then 51.5. On Friday evening, they moved their estimate to 54 feet for Saturday.
• By 11 p.m., East Grand Forks' dike at the Kennedy Bridge fails, flooding the Sherlock Park neighborhood and cutting last link between the two cities.
"It is one of the major disasters of our lifetimes," said Grand Forks Mayor Pat Owens. "We will get through this, but we do not want to lose any lives."
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