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Red River flood crest passes into Canada; Americans bid good riddance

April 28, 1997

PEMBINA, N.D.(AP) _ After more than three weeks, the end was in sight. The Red River’s flood crest _ 30 miles of muddy, greasy water laden with sewage, garbage and farm runoff _ had all but passed into Canada on Monday.

Its departure signaled the end to the worst of what has been called a once-in-500-years flood.

``Good riddance,″ said Susan Fagerholt of Hoople, summing up the sentiments of tens of thousands of people on the northern Plains who were driven from their homes during the Red’s 250-mile flood course.

There was no jubilation, just relief, in this former fur-trading town, the oldest community in North Dakota. The people of Pembina (pronounced PEM-beh-nuh) fought off the Red by bolstering the dike encircling their community on the Canadian border, keeping it dry for its 200th birthday year.

``I wouldn’t call it a victory. I wouldn’t know what you would call it. We lost some and we won some. The town itself, I think we won,″ said Tim Wilwand, 38, a farmer and store owner who helped save the community that is the hub for 640 people. His farm was under water.

``This is something else,″ said James Morris, 66, a farmer whose family has been in the area since 1879.

Indeed, the town was an island in the middle of a lake, its water whipped into white caps by the wind. And there, overseeing things, was the Coast Guard, amid the greatest stretch of plains in America.

``It’s really weird,″ said Seaman Eddie Terrebonne. ``It’s something you don’t expect to see in North Dakota.″

The water was expected to take weeks to recede, but now the heaviest flow was on its way to its terminus at Lake Winnipeg, about 60 miles away.

``I just pray to God that what happened to Grand Forks doesn’t happen to anybody in Canada,″ Fagerholt said.

The crest was expected to reach the city of Winnipeg this weekend and take maybe two days to pass. The city’s floodway was expected to protect Winnipeg’s 660,000 people, but 17,000 others have been evacuated from small towns to the south.

In Grand Forks, where most of the 50,000 people driven from their homes nearly two weeks ago have been allowed to come back for cleanup visits, there were further causes for celebration, albeit small ones.

A bridge linking the town to East Grand Forks, Minn., reopened; House Majority Leader Dick Armey and eight other congressmen came to town in a show of support; water pressure was returning; most residents could get a look at their property; and the alcohol ban was partially lifted.

``Don’t move away. Rebuild. If I were sitting here today making that decision, I’d come back,″ said Armey, who grew up in Cando and attended graduate school at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

The Texas Republican recalled the days when he and his wife dreamed of living in the well-to-do Belmont Park section of the city. Pointing to a half-submerged home, Armey said: ``That could have been our house.″

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