“Flooding in the U.S. Northern Plains,” Ensign, July 1997, 79–80
At a time when members of the Church are reflecting on the challenges early pioneers faced, such as leaving homes in severe winter weather and wading through frigid waters, members in South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Canada have experienced some of the same challenges, facing the most severe weather conditions the region has seen in 100 years.
While no members have died, virtually all in the area have been affected by flooding and storms that lasted most of April along a 195-mile stretch of Red River from Wahpeton, North Dakota, to Manitoba in Canada. Some members have lost homes and businesses; many have lost possessions, including food storage, furnishings, and irreplaceable mementos.
Following the flooding, Elders Hugh W. Pinnock and J. Richard Clarke of the North America Central Area Presidency traveled separately to various areas affected by the flood, surveying damage and encouraging members. Additionally several truckloads of needed commodities from nearby bishops’ storehouses were sent to humanitarian agencies offering flood relief, and local Church leaders requested generators and other emergency equipment for the flood victims.
Perhaps hardest hit by the flood were Grand Forks, North Dakota, and East Grand Forks, Minnesota, where more than 80 percent of the residents were evacuated, including 400 Church members and all the missionaries serving in the area. One missionary apartment in Grand Forks was destroyed in a fire resulting from the flood.
Many members were given only minutes to leave their homes in the dead of night “taking only the clothes on their backs,” said Joel C. Smith, president of the Fargo North Dakota Stake. Forty-six members of the Grand Forks Second Ward stayed with members of the Grand Forks First Ward until they could return to their homes.
“Members stayed up all night to make sure dikes weren’t leaking and pumps were running,” President Smith continued. “At the height of the flood in Fargo, water was running through the city at 20 million gallons per minute.”
After weeks of receding water, residents throughout the flooded area began to return to their homes and the huge task of cleanup, while others returned to rebuild homes that had been destroyed. Members joined forces with others in the communities and volunteers from surrounding areas to empty basements, clear out debris, gather trash, and do any other necessary tasks.
Particularly outstanding have been the efforts of the youth, reported Janna Hayne, Fargo North Dakota Stake public affairs specialist. “They were the backbone,” she observed. Students throughout the flooded communities sandbagged prior to the flooding and then offered their services afterward in flood refuge centers.
Others stood out as well. Nicknamed the “Brownie Lady,” Amy Fontaine of the Grand Forks First Ward regularly took brownies and cookies made by refugees staying in her home, including full-time missionaries, to the medical team serving the flood refugees.
Members in Cass Lake, Minnesota, helped evacuate flood victims from neighboring Bemidji and then opened their homes to those who needed shelter. Primary children offered stuffed animals to youngsters who had been forced from their homes. President Smith said the refugees coming into Cass Lake have doubled the population.
Missionaries in Minnesota turned from proselyters to sandbaggers. They sandbagged throughout the week from morning until evening. Often they found times where they could share the gospel with an investigator who had come with them or with other sandbaggers.
Local Church leaders in Grand Forks received calls from members all over the country offering to help. One family from Lovell, Wyoming, saw the report on the news and wanted to do something. They called Craig Whitehead, bishop of the Grand Forks First Ward, to find out what was needed. Then they loaded their truck and horse trailer with supplies and drove to Grand Forks, staying briefly to unload before returning home.
“Home teaching and visiting teaching lines of communication were used effectively,” reported Carl Johnson, bishop of the Grand Forks Second Ward. “It was rewarding to see people work like that.
“Sunday morning we held a sacrament meeting with the flood victims from the ward,” he continued. “They came wearing the clothes they had on when they left their homes. It was really touching, but everyone came telling jokes and had a good attitude. It was so different from the looks on the faces of those who don’t have the gospel; our members don’t feel they’ve lost everything. The morale of the members is tremendous.”
Some areas farther north were also flooded, although not to the same extent. More than 300 members in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, joined in sandbagging efforts prior to the flooding. “We are aware of only one member family affected,” reported Stephen W. Hansen, president of the Minneapolis Minnesota Stake.
“The Wakpala Branch meetinghouse flooded due to an underestimation of the amount of runoff,” reported Bismarck North Dakota Stake president Richard Adsero. Sixty people, including some members, were housed at a nearby motel, and priesthood leaders together determined how they could best meet needs in the community.