In East Grand Forks the crest was 54.4 feet on April 22. Total estimated damages were approximately $4 billion with $3.6 billion in losses in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks alone. These losses were the greatest per capita in U.S. history. Nearly 90 percent of the area was flooded and three neighborhoods were completely destroyed. Eleven buildings in downtown Grand Forks were destroyed by water and fire. In a region of 5,000 homes, fewer than 20 escaped damage. Widespread evacuation occurred and potable water was unavailable. Fortunately no deaths were attributed to the flood in the Grand Forks area.

By February 1997 the National Weather Service (NWS) knew of the potential for record flooding in this region and disseminated information through the standard suite of products that included weather data and forecasts, hydrology data, hydrology outlooks (narrative and numerical), hydrology forecasts (at least twice a day), and flood statements and warnings. Leading up to the event, the NWS was the main voice speaking with the communities. After the event, during a post-analysis (NWS 1998), two other potential sources were identified that could have provided information that would have been beneficial leading up to the flooding. Following the disaster, considerable finger-pointing by the public and elected officials focused on the role of NWS flood predictions (see Figure 2–1). (Detailed timelines for this weather event are given in Appendix C.)

FIGURE 2–1 An example of the public reaction to the flood event. SOURCE: Barry Reichenbaugh, National Weather Service.

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