In Touch with Prairie Living
By Michael M. Miller
In this month's column, we focus on the tragic stories unfolding
from those unforgettable disasters of April, 1997. The rapid succession
of a destructive ice storm; a monstrous April blizzard; deadly loss
of cattle and wildlife; loss of electrical power and water supply;
massive flooding by the raging Red River; flash flood evacuations;
additional overland flooding from record snowfall of up to 120 inches;
and focusing these paralyzing disasters, unique to North Dakota's
108 year history, upon the emergency evacuation, record flooding,
and fire in Grand Forks and neighboring East Grand Forks. This long-term
trauma extends to surrounding rural communities and farms up and
down the Red River Valley. Future columns will share episodes of
heroism, despite extreme hardships and challenges beyond common
Grand Forks: Grit of the Pioneers Lives On
TheStar Tribune in Minneapolis shared this April 14 editorial:
"...Look at Grand Forks. Look there to see Nature's awful power
to devastate human handiwork. And look there to see the even great
power of the human spirit to endure...There were no deaths and no
injuries to report. That remarkable fact may be the finest tribute
of all to the stead sensibility of a hardy breed. Again and again
in the last four days, Grand forks has displayed the grit and optimism
of the pioneers who settled the Red River Valley. Those qualities
live in their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The nation
will surely respond with admiration..."
A Cruel Blow, a Tough Recovery
Mike Jacobs, editor of theGrand Forks Herald writes on
April 21: "...The Herald's archives were destroyed,
for decades, librarians here have clipped the newspaper, recording
the comings and going of the mean and the mighty, the haughty and
the humble...Some issues may be salvaged on computer or on microfilm
at UND. But everything else is gone.
Unrecoverable...Past and potential. All lost in the present..."
Herald writer Tim Fought shared this message on April 22:
..."We'll do our part, and we'll repay the nation. We need
help, Mr. President...We'll repay the nation by restoring the heart
of a vast agricultural region, supplying the nation and the world
with wheat for bread and pasta, barley for beer, potatoes for french
fries, sugar for sodas and on and on..." Throughout the Dakotas
we are going to need extensive help to recover, move foreword and
become a stronger Northern Plains in the months and years ahead.
Young People Have Been Crucial to Flood Fight
The Forum editorial of April 20 comments: "...In every
city, on every dike line, in every aid agency there are young people
at work. They come from all economic circumstances and ethnic backgrounds,
brought together by a common community purpose...Many heroes will
emerge from the flood battle after the water subsides and the aftermath
is cleared up. The young people will be among them. Young people
should know that their selfless work for their communities not only
is recognized, but also is appreciated. They are great kids and
Volunteers Saved Our Cities and Towns
Thankful signs appear throughout Fargo-Moorhead saying, "Bless
You Volunteers" and "You Saved Our City Volunteers".
People of all ages from throughout the Dakotas, Minnesota and the
Upper Midwest came to rescue our towns during times of calamity.
They came in school buses, church vans, military trucks, and payloaders.
Despite her own city struggles with the soggy James River, Jamestown
on April 19 sent 60,000 sandbags on 12 train cars, traveling 100
miles to help their Fargo neighbors.
These volunteers worked to exhaustion, filling thousands of sandbags,
protecting homes and communities, and creating bridges of new friendships
destined for a lifetime. They exemplify a caring people, who share
the spirit of our Northern Plains prairie people.
Living without Lights and Water in Casselton, ND
Rebecca Rudel Torgerson, a Fessenden native of German-Russian
heritage, teaches in the NDSU nursing program. She writes an April
8 e-mail message, during a time of no heat, electricity, and water
in her Casselton home: "We've mentioned many times over the
past few days, 'How could the early settlers have persevered?' Then
again, somedays, we've said...I think Laura Ingalls had life easy.
Meanwhile, we hand-dipped water from our house basement. We hosted
two families in our home, sharing heat from a amazingly-capable
"Our new public school is housing and feeding 350 people.
Yes, people are getting impatient and stressed. I feel fortunate
to offer support and ideas to many who are chronically ill and elderly.
We are blessed through our community spirit. We are grateful for
safe shelter to benefit needy people. We are thankful for generous
neighboring communities who muscle beside us to bag sand. We are
encouraged by the active elderly, unable to lift sand, who have
jointly prepared casseroles."
Now the people of Casselton, our small towns and farm families
have opened their homes with sharing hearts to provide refuge for
those thousands of evacuated persons from Grand Forks plus families
from farms and flooded small towns.
Travel to Odessa and the German Villages
On May 17, Americans of German-Russian heritage begin their "Journey
to the Homeland Tour", sponsored by the NDSU Libraries. Their
destination is Odessa, Ukraine, where they will tour former Bessarabian
and Black Sea German villages. Prairie Public Television joins us
to document this historic tour for a future television documentary
in cooperation with the NDSU Libraries. Our next tour is planned
for May 26-June 8, 1998.
Share Your Memories
Readers are invited to share their survival stories during these
difficult days of historic devastation in our region. During April,
1997, I kept a diary of the tragic events that struck North Dakota
and the Red River Valley. These daily commentary summaries were
received by thousands of e-mail subscribers, who immediately responded
with a tremendous outpouring of concerns, prayers, and relief donations.
These daily reports along with personal flood photos appear at my
personal home page at http://library.ndsu.edu/grhc/biography.html.
The Germans from Russia Heritage Collection website is http://library.ndsu.edu/grhc.
For further information about the tour and other comments, contact
Michael M. Miller, NDSU Libraries, PO Box 5599, Fargo, ND 58105-5599
(Tel: 701-231-8416; E-mail: Michael.Miller@ndsu.edu).