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DoD Delivers Relief to Red River Flood Victims

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 24, 1997 – Thousands of service members and DoD civilians are delivering relief and shelter to nearly 60,000 people forced from their homes by the flooding Red River of the North.

With the cities of Grand Forks, N.D., and East Grand Forks, Minn., almost totally submerged, Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D., has become the primary shelter for residents fleeing the still-rising flood waters. Base spokesman Capt. Byron Spencer said every service member available has joined the relief effort.

Meanwhile, U.S. Transportation Command based at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., has airlifted supplies and equipment to the base, including 50 power generators, 4,000 blankets, 900 sleeping bags, 90 pallets of Red Cross supplies, and Federal Emergency Management Agency communications satellite uplink equipment and technicians.

The command also airlifted FEMA and Public Health Service medical teams from Tacoma, Wash.; Alameda, Calif.; and Los Alamitos, Calif., to the flooded areas.

The National Guard ordered 2,181 members to state active duty from Kentucky, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, and the Army Corps of Engineers delivered 5.5 million sandbags and 220 pumps. "We currently have 560 engineers ... out there working on dikes, levees and other activities to prevent flood waters from attacking new targets such as hospitals," DoD spokesman Kenneth Bacon said at a Pentagon briefing April 22.

Corps efforts are centered on completing ring levees around Grand Forks' only hospital and on building a flanking levee to divert overland flow away from the city.

The North Dakota Air National Guard provided water purification units, security support, helicopter evacuation of hospital patients, and assault bridges to aid evacuation efforts. The South Dakota National Guard provided 500 cots.

"Every day we have 1,500 to 3,000 people check into shelters, get some food and a good night's sleep," Spencer said. Using telephones provided by AT&T, Spencer said, most evacuees have been able to contact relatives and move in with them after one or two nights at the base. "People in the area who weren't affected by the floods also opened their homes to the evacuees," he added.

Besides feeding and sheltering the evacuees, the base is providing medical aid, Spencer said. "With the civilian hospital shut down, now the base is in charge of surgery and medical assistance for the area," he said. "Also, a C-9 [aeromedical evacuation aircraft] flew in from Scott [Air Force Base] to evacuate 50 seriously ill people to Minneapolis." Medical personnel from Minot Air Force Base, 212 miles west of Grand Forks, are also on-scene and helping, as are Coast Guardsmen from various locations, Spencer said.

The base commissary extended hours and sent its employee into the streets to distribute water and bread, said Lowell Farmer of the Defense Commissary Agency Midwest Region office at Kelly Air Force Base, Texas. "So far, they've been able to keep up with the increased requirements of all the additional service members and DoD workers there," Farmer said.

President Clinton toured the area by helicopter April 22, saying he'd never seen such devastation. After landing back at the base, he met with relief workers and evacuees in an airplane hangar serving as a shelter.

"I will never forget what I have seen and heard here," Clinton told the group, pledging $488 million in disaster relief.

Spencer said the president's visit boosted everyone's morale, but added, "The full extent of this disaster won't be known for weeks. All of East Grand Forks and about 90 percent of Grand Forks have been evacuated, but the water is still rising. We're all tired, but we're pulling together. There's still a lot of work to do."

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