Monday, March 30, 2009


Red River Rising

As a native of Grand Forks, North Dakota, and a graduate of Grand Forks Central High School, I’ve been following with special interest the current flooding along the Red River of the North, which flows north into Canada and is the boundary between North Dakota and Minnesota. 

The Great Flood of 1997 hit Grand Forks hard, as well as East Grand Forks, its twin city on the east side of the river in Minnesota. 

The national attention during the current 2009 flood is rightly focused on Fargo, North Dakota’s largest city, which is 80 miles south of, and upriver from, Grand Forks.  Fortunately, it appears that the tremendous individual, community and government response to the current crisis will save Fargo from catastrophe.  Whatever happens, I’m proud of their efforts.

As for the Great Flood of 1997, you perhaps recall the extensive national attention to that slowly unfolding disaster, as many square miles of the two cities, including their entire downtowns, were inundated by floodwaters.

Notwithstanding heroic efforts, the Red River in 1997 broke though the dikes and became a river more than ten miles wide.  My childhood neighborhood in Grand Forks, more than a mile from the river, was flooded.

The Grand Forks Herald won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for public service after continuing to publish daily during that “Flood of the Century”—and fire—of April 1997, even though its offices were destroyed.

I remember well the Herald’s famous headline, “Come Hell and High Water,” and the remarkable photos showing several old familiar downtown buildings in Grand Forks burning—yes, burning—while sitting in the floodwaters. 

My biggest disappointment—and shame as a North Dakotan—relates to the substantial rightwing propaganda that makes racist comparisons—both thinly veiled and overt—between mostly white Grand Forks (which bounced back from disaster) and mostly black New Orleans (which did not.) 

If you can’t easily digest political humor from the left—but prefer instead the tangy taste of racist comparisons between the whites of Grand Forks and the blacks of New Orleans—do yourself a favor and read no further.

Luckily, the Clinton administration—not the Bush regime—was on the job in 1997 and responded splendidly to the Grand Forks Flood of the Century.

Thanks in large part to billions of dollars in federal assistance, Grand Forks recovered from the 1997 disaster stronger, better, and more beautiful than ever, and with a new levee system designed to prevent a recurrence of the disaster.

If Bush had then been in office, the headline might have read, “Come Hell, High Water and Bush”—now that’s scary! 

Luckily, this flood of 2009 is occurring after Bush slithered out of office.  So, once again—whatever damage this current flood causes, and whatever level of federal assistance is needed—the fine people of the Red River Valley will do just fine.

You can bet on it. It’s like money in the bank.

Oops, I forgot—that “money in the bank” simile no longer works. 

Dang, is there anything the Bush regime and almost three decades of Reaganomics didn’t wreck?

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