Flood shelter populations dwindle, but hard-luck cases remain
Apr. 28, 1997
GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) _ For more than a week, Richard Bjur has watched enviously as other flood refugees around him have cleaned off their cots and headed for better lodging.
A huge hangar at the Grand Forks Air Force Base that sheltered 3,400 people a week ago was down to only about 200 on Monday. Among them were Bjur and his companion, Linda Dauphinais.
``We've got no way to get around, and nowhere to go,'' Bjur said.
As the Red River's flood crest moved into Canada, most of the thousands of people driven from their homes were staying with family or friends. They had used the shelter for two or three days to gather their wits.
Among those remaining at shelters are people with the least resources to cope with a disaster.
Bjur and Dauphinais fled their small Grand Forks apartment on April 18 with just the clothes on their backs. They didn't own much, but what they had they lost under 7 feet of water.
Sitting on the edge of a narrow canvas cot, Bjur said neither he nor Dauphinais had a job or a car before the flood. They lived off Bjur's veterans disability pension, which barely paid the bills, and now they can't imagine how they will replace even what little they had.
Once Bjur's monthly disability check arrives Thursday, they'll probably take a bus to Bismarck, where Dauphinais' sister has offered to put them up for a while.
A few cots down from Bjur's in the noisy hangar, 42-year-old Cheryl Borth sat dejectedly, at a loss for what to do in the coming days or weeks until she and her four children can return to their flooded rental house.
Her parents are dead, and a sister in Fargo ``has her own life to live,'' Borth said. Her options? Borth bowed her head, her lower lip quivering. ``I don't want to talk about it,'' she said.
Actually, there are homes for everyone. A large section of the wall at the base is filled with offers from around the region. ``Will take four or five people. Cats or dogs OK,'' is a typical posting.
The Salvation Army is offering bus fare to evacuees who have offers of lodging outside the flood zone but can't afford to get there.
Capt. Byron Spencer, Air Force public affairs officer, said those who do not take up the offers will probably be housed in downtown Grand Forks by the Red Cross, some perhaps at dormitories at the University of North Dakota, which has closed for the semester because of the flooding.
``We've done fine here,'' Spencer said, ``but I really have to emphasize how many people have opened their homes to strangers. They are real heroes. And there are so many of them.''
Some people, finding a measure of security in the shelters despite the spartan conditions and lack of privacy, may require a firm nudge to get on with their lives.
Allen Tufte, 65, arrived at the shelter Friday after being stranded in his Grand Forks apartment for five days. He missed evacuation orders and retreated from his first-floor apartment to a second-floor laundry room, waiting until the water dropped enough for him to walk to safety on dry pavement.
Tufte has a brother and a sister but hasn't called either for help since settling in at the shelter.
``Why bother anybody?'' he said. ``I get free room and board here, and medical help, restrooms and showers. These cots aren't exactly water beds, but they'll do.''