Flood Story

This has never been a very easy story for me to tell. For that reason, I haven’t told it very often.

It had been a very long, very hard day. There had been a lot of April days like that during the 1997 Red River Valley flood. They were long days whether or not you were a television reporter.

It was about a week after the worst of the flooding had hit Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. That day we had covered President Clinton’s visit to Grand Forks Air Force Base where hundreds and hundreds of people, with nowhere else to go, were being housed. It was late evening. I had talked Grand Forks Mayor Pat Owens, who was half way back to Grand Forks by now, into returning to the base so she could be part of a television news “live shot.”

I was shot. I was ready to go home. In this case, home was a camper parked along with a half dozen or so others in the farmyard of a couple of our friends near Thompson. Most of us at WDAZ still weren’t able to return to our actual homes because of the high water.

As I getting ready to leave, a young man, probably in his mid-twenties, approached me and said something like, “Will you please help me? I’m trying to find my girlfriend. It’s very important.”

He wasn’t the only one trying to find someone. Hundreds of people, probably more, had been displaced from family and friends in the confusion of evacuating Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, the largest evacuation of people, we were told later, since the Civil War.

With the Internet and even cell phones in their infancy then, in the most primitive way imaginable, we had been reading messages on television, practically around the clock for several days, trying to help people re-connect.

I asked this man to write down his message to his girlfriend on a piece of paper which I put in my pocket. Somewhat reluctantly on my way “home,” I made a stop at the station and handed the note to one of the anchors in the studio. I didn’t think any more about it.

A week later I was back at the airbase where hundreds of people were still living. The same man again found me. This time he said, “I want to thank you for helping me locate my girlfriend. I was able to find her about an hour before my father’s funeral.”

He had told me it was important. He just hadn’t told me why it was important.

In the months and years since, I have come to believe that that simple, little act, which required no talent whatsoever on my part, may have been the single most important thing I’ve ever done on television. And, with no intention of trying to be overly-dramatic, I also believe that in some way it may be one of the most important things I’ve ever done in my life.

8 Responses

  1. Chuck Bush

    Great story. Sometimes, we can affect the lives of others and may never know it. A small kindness goes a long way.

  2. I still vividly remember you on air completely exhausted and disheartened. It was so out of character for you. It drove home how serious the situation was.

  3. Bob Backman

    Well written. As many of us learned in the flood of 97, property meant less than many other things. With a rescue boat waiting I helped rescue a mentally ill , very mean cat, that tore out chunks of my arm in the process. If it had been my cat I think I would have just shot it but to its owner, who had just lost her husband, it was more important than her house. I hope writing such as yours is preserved so that years from now history tells the important stories of the flood, not just the technical details of dikes and sandbags…..

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