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Assistance Sought As Airmen Recover from Grand Forks

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 2, 1997 – More than 700 airmen and their families face weeks of uncertainty and possibly years of financial recovery after being forced from their homes by the flooding Red River of the North.

As the river slowly recedes, the Air Force Aid Society and Grand Forks Air Force Base chapel are accepting monetary donations to help military flood victims.

"We've talked with the senior leaders at the base and told them we will be able to meet any needs military victims of the flood have," said B. J. Johnston, national emergency assistance coordinator for the Air Force Aid Society in Arlington, Va.

Johnston said the society already is processing grant requests from flood victims. He also encouraged donations to other relief organizations, such as the base chaplain's fund. Those donations can be made through any military chaplain's office, according to Capt. Byron Spencer, base spokesman.

Most military victims of the flood also have applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for assistance, Spencer added. The agency will help them rebuild or relocate and provide rental assistance, Spencer said.

"We've had lots of additional offers to ship clothing and food here, but the Red Cross is handling that right now." In fact the base doesn't currently have space for additional contributions, the captain said.

Spencer, himself, is among the thousands who fled their homes in Grand Forks, N.D., and East Grand Forks, Minn. "A lot of people left without anything more than what they could pack in a bag," he said, and many like me only had what they wore."

While the base set up temporary shelters for thousands of civilians, evacuated military families moved in with other families in base housing, the captain said.

Since the floods began receding, some airmen have visited their homes in town to assess damage, which is heavy, according to Spencer.

"A couple of people I talked to lived close to the river, and their places are basically ruined," he said. An airman in his office reached his home, he added, only to find the basement completely flooded and water marks four feet up the main level walls. "His place was totaled," the captain said.

"We're in a transition period, now. Some have gone back home and seen what's left. Flood water has contaminated their rugs, bedding and clothing so that they're unusable. Others still haven't seen their homes or can't get in them because there's still too much water."

Meanwhile, base dining halls work extra hours to help feed the displaced families and airmen, while Red Cross workers distribute clothing to them.

"We're doing everything we can to help our airmen," Spencer said, "but this is not a short-term deal. We're just very grateful for everyone's assistance."

Monetary contributions to flood victims can be made to the following agencies:

Air Force Aid Society

1745 Jefferson Davis Highway, Suite 202

Arlington, VA 22202.

(Make checks out to "Air Force Aid Society," and in the memo section on the check, write "Grand Forks flood relief.")

Grand Forks AFB Chaplain's Fund

c/o Team Grand Forks

319 ARC/HC

1699 J Street

Grand Forks AFB, ND 58205.

(Make checks out to "GFAFB Chaplain's Fund," and in the memo section on the check, write "Military flood relief.")

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