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Grand Forks Cautiously Optimistic About Receding River

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 25, 1997 – Only about 500 people remained in a temporary shelter set up inside a Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D., hangar April 24. Earlier in the week, more than 3,000 had packed the hangar and two other shelters the base opened to take in some of the 60,000 residents evacuated from Grand Forks, N.D., and East Grand Forks, Minn.

Officials ordered both cities evacuated after the Red River of the North overflowed its banks and within a few days submerged a broad area of the Red River Valley. Fifteen miles west of Grand Forks, the air base became a logical destination both for fleeing residents, rescue workers and tons of equipment and supplies flown in on Air Mobility Command transports.

Active duty and National Guard personnel from several states responded to the crisis alongside national and state disaster relief workers. More than 800 airmen from the base worked overtime filling sand bags, provided medical care and doing whatever else was needed, officials said.

Late April 23, relief officials determined the river had begun receding and made plans to allow some residents to return to their homes, to remove valuables or just to check damages, said Tech Sgt. John Norgren of the 319th Air Refueling Wing public affairs office.

"We're slowing down and readjusting," Norgren said. "We've consolidated the shelter space in the hangar and restored a fitness center and school to normal use. We also stopped sand bag operations last night [April 23].

"Most of those who used the base for shelter have moved in with family members or friends," Lorgren said. "For those still here, we'll keep the shelter open as long as necessary."

Norgren said the base had been worried about running out of drinking water during the crisis, because normally it gets its water from the city. The flood shut that system down, he said. "We located an alternative water source, however," he said, "and we also got water purification units [from the North Dakota Air National Guard]."

He said the base's telephone system is still threatened, because the switching node is located in Grand Forks. "It's still working, but the system obviously is heavily tasked," he said. "We're asking people to use phones for official use only."

About 1,100 of the 5,000 service members stationed at the base live in the flooded area, the sergeant said. They've been staying with other military families in base housing and, like everyone else, waiting for the flooding to end.

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