After 25 years, former mayors recall Fargo-Moorhead flood fight
FARGO (KVRR) – In April 1997, the Red River Valley was in the midst of its largest flood in a century. Countless acres of land were under water. Some communities had to be evacuated, including thousands of residents in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, Minn.
A fierce flood battle was also taking place in the Fargo-Moorhead area.
Mayors Bruce Furness of Fargo and Morrie Lanning of Moorhead were determined to keep the floodwaters from swallowing both cities. But when the flood fight began, Furness says the city had no idea how serious the situation really was.
“We had a meeting of only, I think 5 different houses up and down the river. We thought that’s all we needed to do. So we put some sand down out there and had people get some information, thinking that nothing else was going to happen. That was a big mistake,” Furness said.
“But then, the snowstorm came along, and that really threw a monkey wrench into a lot of the planning” according to Lanning. “We all of a sudden really had to elevate our plans and figure out all kinds of new things to do to in order to battle the flood.”
Lanning says even even though so many things were happening so quickly, there are some memories of the flood that he vividly remembers.
“We had geysers coming out of manholes in south Moorhead, where the water was shooting up. And we had very ingenious kinds of staff, employees that figured out they had to get steel plates to put over the manholes and park garbage trucks on it because the steel plate would even blow off, so they parked the garbage truck on it to keep the water from gushing.”
Furness says the battle to save the cities could not have been won without extraordinary support from across the region.
“NDSU probably had half of their students doing that…and people were coming from Minneapolis, other places in Minnesota, any place in North Dakota to help out. I don’t know what those numbers turned out to be, but we probably never could have gotten it done without them.”