The winter of 1996-1997 produced eight blizzards, which dumped several feet of snow in our region. The resulting flood in the spring of 1997 devastated the Red River Valley. Residents were braced for spring flooding, and volunteers had stockpiled thousands of sandbags in anticipation of holding back the Red River and Red Lake River.
Spring flooding is part of life within riverside communities. Local residents fought the Red River and Red Lake River successfully in 1897, 1950, and 1979. However, the flood of 1997 proved more powerful than anything previously experienced. As the river level steadily rose to its ultimate crest, just over fifty-four feet, residents were evacuated neighborhood by neighborhood. Communities throughout North Dakota and Minnesota opened shelters, and homeowners welcomed evacuees. The personnel of the Grand Forks Air Force Base, already weary from sandbagging, worked to make flood refugees comfortable in converted airplane hangars.
When the waters finally receded, they left behind several inches of mud and hundreds of wrecked homes and businesses. The Security Building downtown was the scene of a massive fire that spread to several other buildings. Despite the devastation, however, the residents of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks rolled up their sleeves and began the task of cleaning up the mess. Thousands of volunteers came from all parts of the U.S. to help carry out trash and power-wash homes. Soon life began to approach normalcy, as children’s summer park board activities resumed. Here at the Grand Forks County Historical Society museum, tours began again by the middle of July 1997, even though the Myra Museum basement was far from ready for visitors. We thank everyone who gave their time and money to rebuild our community as well as to clean up our museum. We will never forget.