The City of Grand Forks Reflects on the Flood of ’97

For those who were there for the 1997 flood they remember it like it was yesterday

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Life came to a screeching halt for thousands of people in Grand Forks after the flood of 1997.

But after 20 years, the city has grown and improved.

For many people who were in the heart of the disaster, it still feels like yesterday.

The river rose to 54.35 feet in 1997.

It is still the record level on the Red River in Grand Forks.

Twenty years later, people still can’t forget the flood fight and the devastation.

“I took a boat in after a couple of days and got my cat,” said Scott Jensen, a long time Grand Forks resident.

Almost the entire city was ordered to evacuate and many came home shocked.

Allen Grasser was the assistant city engineer at the time.

“When you actually see what your home looks like and what flood waters can do, that’s probably one of the first reactions people had is kind of just disbelief,” he said. “You had water that was coming from the south, and it was also backing up from the north and that’s kind of what ended up overwhelming Grand Forks.”

To give you an idea of how high the river got, you can find a statue representation in the heart of Grand Forks at the Greenway.

“Clean-up, depending on how you define it, took years,” Grasser said.

Water wasn’t the only element the city battled.

Fires broke out across a flooded downtown Grand Forks.

“Twenty years ago, our law office was in the First National Bank building,” said Jensen. “We thought we were entirely safe from the flood because we were on the fourth and fifth floors. Of course, we burned entirely.”

Jensen said many felt as if they lost against the disaster.

“We had absolutely nothing left by the time that fire was over,” he added.

Despite the challenges, he said like much of Grand Forks, they came out even stronger.

“We talked about it this morning and we said really some of the adversity we went through at the time of the flood is probably what brought us together,” said Jensen.

The damages for the region hit $3.5 billion.

The flood protection was raised to 60 feet after the flooding and recent high water hasn’t been a concern.

You can see the complete timeline of how Grand Forks moved forward from the flood here.

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