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For those still in Grand Forks, conditions are primitive

April 22, 1997

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) _ Louis Batonye passed up his last chance for a shower on Friday, before his water was turned off.

Today, Batonye was among the roughly 2,500 to 5,000 people who stayed behind in flooded Grand Forks, for whom showers were out of the question. With the city water plant shut down, water for drinking and bathing was scarce.

``I spend a couple of weeks a year on the Great Slave Lake in northern Canada,″ said Batonye, a fisherman. ``The smell is becoming very similar.

``There’s no doubt it’s inconvenient,″ he added. ``You get a new attitude.″

The Red River has risen so high in Grand Forks that even the equipment used to measure the brown floodwaters was swamped. The main U.S. Geological Survey gauge was flooded, so officials could not definitely say the river had crested, though they said it was holding steady at about 54 feet _ 28 feet above flood stage.

``We’ve been having a lot of difficulty just getting the measurements, because protection and property has to come first,″ said Russ Harkness, acting district chief for USGS in North Dakota.

Moving slowly north across the flat plains of eastern North Dakota, the renegade river chased out nearly all the 50,000 residents of Grand Forks.

``We knew we were losing it all, so we pulled all the steaks out of the freezer and had one last good supper,″ John Neppel said Monday from Bemidji, Minn., where his family had taken refuge.

Those who stayed behind have had to cope with filthy, icy floodwaters that cut off running water and blocked firefighters from getting to a blaze that ravaged three downtown business blocks.

Cleanup for the city itself could cost in the tens of millions, and damage could top $1 billion, local officials said.

Gov. Ed Schafer said detailed aerial photos and video would be taken of the city starting today, ``so people can start to see what damage they may or may not have.″

`We have to figure out a way to get people back into this community. It’s going to be a long-term recovery,″ he said on NBC’s ``Today″ show this morning.

``We will rebuild Grand Forks, North Dakota, to better than it was before.″

After visiting parts of the city today, the governor said ``it’s pretty grim down here″ and predicted that for many people, the worst is yet to come emotionally, as the long cleanup begins.

President Clinton planned to fly over the area today and visit the Grand Forks Air Force base west of town, which has become a shelter for about 2,000 people.

The Red has been pushing its way north for days. The cities of Fargo and Wahpeton were in the greatest danger last week; for the most part, the dikes there held. Now the Red is threatening smaller towns near the Canadian border and the Canadian province of Manitoba.

Residents of Drayton and Pembina, N.D., and Emerson and Dominion City, in Manitoba, were asked to leave their homes. A crack formed in a dike protecting Drayton early this morning, prompting more people to evacuate, but the town was not flooded yet, said Corene Vaughn, a Pembina County commissioner.

A fertilizer plant in Drayton put out a call for help to move some 3,800 tons of dry fertilizer it feared would ruin the local water supply if it got into the flooded ground. Trucks were hauling the fertilizer from the Cenex plant this morning, Ms. Vaughn said.

``They’re working feverishly at it, and it should be complete shortly,″ she said.

In Grand Forks, portable bathrooms and water tanks were set up in the city’s unsubmerged west end. Residents were limited to one 1-gallon jug of water a day. The sale of alcohol was banned; barrooms and liquor stores were ordered shut by Mayor Pat Owens, who was worried about her residents’ exhausted state of body and mind.

National Guard soldiers in airboats, rafts and personal watercraft zoomed past submerged cars on their way to rescuing those trapped in their homes. Some homes floated off foundations.

``I want to go back to something, at least the frame of the house,″ said Jennifer Butler, who left her downtown apartment and was staying with her parents in the west end.

The National Guard Armory has become a supplier of everything from pet information to tetanus shots, cots and quick meals. Guardsmen on break played cards.

Volunteers dished up beef stew, salad, bratwurst and milk. Out front, people came in to leave their names on legal pads so friends and relatives could find them.

Neppel spent Monday on the phone, trying to locate his 18-year-old son, Chad. They became separated when the family hurriedly split up during the evacuation Friday night.

Neppel even asked friends to search the Internet for clues.

``I think he’s OK, but I don’t know,″ Neppel said, his voice breaking.

``I just want to know that he’s safe,″ he said. ``I want to give him some reassurance that we’ll get together soon.″

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