By: Mark Boardman
In April and May of 1997 the Red River, bordering North Dakota and Minnesota flooded across the Red River valley causing $3.5 Billion worth of damage, making it one of the most expensive natural disasters ever.
The winter of 1996-97 was particularly harsh in the area with a succession of winter storms piling up massive amounts of snow over the large floodplain. Two of the worst-hit towns were Fargo and Grand Forks which had a record amount of 117 inches and 98.6 inches of snowfall on the two towns respectively over the winter.
The Red River flows north into Lake Winnipeg and as it flows north the temperatures get colder. This causes a problem with ice jamming, where the river freezes and the waters flowing from further south begin to back up against the ice dam. This is a frequent concern for the local community and in an effort to prevent ice jamming sand was dumped on the icy river to help melt the ice and increase the flow.
Flood warnings were put out for the region as early as February and the National Weather Service (NWS) predicted a 49-foot crest at Grand Forks. This peak prediction was not updated until April 14th which was just 4 days before the start of the flood. There were some complaints that the NWS could have made earlier and better crest predictions, but what isn't in doubt is the efforts the residents of Grand Forks and Fargo made in trying to save their towns.
The community built up dykes with sandbags and clay to a height of 52 feet, which was 3 feet above the NWS prediction. Students were even excused classes to help in the efforts. With the 52 feet barriers to the river in place, the residents thought they would be spared. Alas, the sudden thaw of this brutally harsh winter's snowfall over such a large floodplain was more than the residents could have imagined. In Grand Forks, the waters peeked at 54 feet and completely overwhelmed the town. The flooding began on April 18th and town after town along the Red River became inundated with floodwaters well above previous records.
The topography of the Red River valley is very wide, and very flat, leaving nothing to bar the way of the floodwaters once they had broken through their banks. As a result, the floods reached up to 3 miles inland (imagine being flooded by a river 3 miles away!) The waters in Grand Forks, at 54 feet, were now 26 feet above the usual flood stage. A massive evacuation of the residents (75% of a population of 52,000) had taken place and this was repeated in all the towns affected by the flood. This evacuation helped with the remarkable statistic that not a single death occurred as a result of the flood despite its massive scale. Also, a large fire ignited in Grand Forks engulfing 11 buildings, including 60 apartments.
The floodwaters eventually began to subside on 23rd April but took a long while to completely recede. The cleanup operation was on a massive scale. 20,000 volunteers flew in to help the beleaguered residents who had to throw away virtually all of their possessions. Slowly but surely the area returned to normal but those who lived through it will never forget the spring flood of 1997 and will be hoping the next great flood won't be in their lifetime.
By: Mark Boardman
In April and May of 1997 the Red River, bordering North Dakota and Minnesota flooded across the Red River valley causing $3.5 Billion worth of damage, making it one of the most expens...
The crime itself was a robbery gone terribly awry. Two ex-convicts, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith traveled several hundred miles to the house of the Clutter family because Hickock's prison cellmate had implied the family was extremely wealthy. In actuality, the agriculturally based family was not poor but did not have a safe full of cash as the cellmate had claimed. Panicking, empty-handed, and afraid of being arrested for attempted robbery, Hickock and Smith tied up the family of four and shot them to death at point-blank range. They escaped to Mexico but ultimately were apprehended, tried, and convicted. Capote read a small blurb about the crime in a side column of the New York Times and was immediately taken with it.
Capote packed his things, picked up Harper Lee, and went down to Kansas. He interviewed nearly all the members of the town - curiously without taking notes, claiming a memory with "99% accuracy." He made the story of the murders into a narrative and it was picked up by a publisher. His book was a roaring success. Newspapers raved about Capote's seamless weaving of factual narrative with engaging prose. This book jump-started the true crime genre, which, prior to In Cold Blood, had not really existed. The wildly popular book was made into an equally successful film. The film was notable for the accuracy with which it portrayed the city in which the murders took place. Director Richard Brooks went so far as to use real jurors from the actual trial to play themselves in the trial scene. Actor Robert Blake who portrayed killer Perry Smith famously went on to kill his own wife in real life, several decades later.
The entire process caused Capote a large amount of grief and anxiety and was hugely emotionally draining for him. He had become very close to one of the murderers, Perry Smith, with whom he believed he had many similarities. Both, for example, had alcoholic mothers. After they had been sentenced to death, Capote kept up an extensive and frequent postal correspondence with both of them. He was wracked with guilt after failing, out of fear and trepidation, to attend their execution. After their deaths, he became a terrible alcoholic, and never fully recovered from the whole experience. Capote became very prestigious in the publishing industry, but the price he paid was his mental health.