Grand Forks was hit by the most serious flooding in its 121 year history this May. The effects of this will be felt for years to come. It rivals, and may exceed, the impacts of the downtown fires of the early 1900s.
As the disaster unfolded and the recovery efforts began I’ve been doing what I can to record the media advisories (thanks for the help Gregg Anderson), public information sessions and meetings as they happen. Most of that is in a growing playlist on YouTube which appears below. (most recent videos first)
Large residential areas of the city were inundated by flood waters that over-topped berms and dikes which eventually failed. Flooding caused a sewage pump in Ruckle to stop working while the one feeding sewage into Ruckle continued to work resulting in sewage contamination from drains mixing in with the already contaminated flood waters.
A lot of houses have seen contaminated water 3 to 8 feet deep. Some have been shut up with mold growing in them for weeks. Many families and citizens are currently homeless and facing an unsure future worried about bankruptcy and homelessness. A number of businesses downtown are in the same condition. Those who aren’t losing their house or business are looking with worry at next spring and questioning officials on whether or not it’s worth putting the expense and effort into restoration if they’ll get swamped with flood and sewage all over again.
The disaster is showing how scattered the preparedness for events of this magnitude has been at both local and provincial levels of government. Some things, like the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), got going fairly quickly. Agencies like the Red Cross come prepared to deal with disasters. Similarly NGO’s like Samaritan’s Purse were effective once they got here.
But during the actual emergency not everything worked out the way it should have. Many people report not getting evacuation orders or flood warnings until after the water had hit.
Rapid Assessment Teams were quickly trained and visited all the affected properties and assigned them a Green (okay) Yellow (warn) or Red (danger) card based on a cursory external examination. Shortly after a confusing message was given by the Interior Health authority – some interpreted it as do not go into flooded and now moldy properties (meaning the Yellow carded ones – see the video below). Some people ignored that and began working on saving their houses as soon as possible by ripping out contaminated appliances, flooring and fixtures. Cutting away mold infested wall board and insulation. Many others obeyed the IHA guidance and left their homes alone. For weeks in some cases. Samaritan’s Purse wouldn’t violate the IHA advice and enter these dwellings either. The result of that was far more mold contamination to deal with at a later time when less volunteer help was available.
Many many truckloads of contaminated material had to be disposed of and that created two immediate problems: What to do with the contaminated material we don’t want in our dump? and How to deal with the accounting of the tip fees?
The various agencies and government levels knew that this would eventually be covered but because they had no plan in place beforehand locals were forced to pay tip fees (sometimes in the hundreds of dollars) for a few weeks until the issues surrounding it were hammered out. Telling was the comment by the EOC manager during one of the media advisories that this single item had been a major thing for them for the previous day or two. That lack of foresight meant that officials in the EOC were distracted by an accounting issue in the middle of a disaster. I find that embarrassing at best.
Local volunteers stepped into the gap and pretty much took over the operations of filling sand bags, getting them to where they were needed and placing them. Hundreds of people put in many sweaty hours for no pay just so they could help. Some volunteered needed equipment and services. Others fed and distributed food donated by one of the large grocers in town.
Now that the flood is a bad memory for most and national media have moved on to other things we are definitely in the recovery phase. The hard part.
The process has begun but unlike the sandbagging efforts it’s not as evident and there aren’t as many people running around like some volunteer army. Government agencies and non-government agencies are working on funding support for displaced people (and businesses), studying how the river has changed course and how to best do mitigation work. We’ve even had a pair of people who were hands-on involved with the rebuilding and renewal of High River Alberta which devastated by a flood 5 years ago.
As time goes by and articles get posted on this they will be categorized as ‘Rebuilding Renewal’ on this website. Meaning if you select that category in a sidebar all you will see in the results are those articles. Previous (and future) articles on this disaster and recovery are all tagged with the tag ‘flood2018’.
I will do my best to cover as many events as I can and bring them to you. I won’t get them all so I suggest you also pay attention to the local media such as the Gazette and Juice FM. You can also find information on social media such as Facebook but the rumour mill and tempers have been going into overdrive so if you’re feeling sad or depressed I’d stay away from that for a while.