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Red River flooding spreads to Canadian prairie

25,000 flood victims register for federal aid

April 24, 1997
Web posted at: 2:31 p.m. EDT (1831 GMT)

GRAND FORKS, North Dakota (CNN) -- The Red River, swollen with runoff from melting snow, inundated vast stretches of U.S. and Canadian prairie on Thursday as floodwaters slowly receded from devastated Grand Forks.

Manitoba issued an emergency evacuation order for 17,500 people in the Red River Valley, and hundreds of rural North Dakota residents fled their homes as the slow-moving crest gradually worked its way north toward Lake Winnipeg.

Three deaths this week in Manitoba have been blamed on the flooding.

North Dakota towns still fighting floods

Meanwhile, the battle against the rising river was still being fought in small rural North Dakota towns of Drayton and Pembina, where people sandbagged through the night to protect emptied homes.

And although 90 percent of the city of Grand Forks remained under an evacuation order and there may be no clean water available for weeks, a few residents were back in dry areas cleaning up, using gas-powered pumps to drain fetid floodwaters from their basements.

Officials warned of the dangers from uncertain electrical systems and contaminated water.

"People can't go in there because there's still safety and health hazards. It looks dry, but it's not safe," Grand Forks Mayor Pat Owens said.

The Red River fell to under 53 feet (16 meters) early on Thursday at Grand Forks, a foot lower than its crest earlier this week, leaving a slimy ring around buildings and trees. Some neighborhoods were completely dry.

Extra money approved for flood recovery

Meanwhile, more federal assistance is on its way. The House Appropriations Committee approved an extra $200 million in emergency relief Thursday for flood victims in North Dakota and Minnesota.

The money, formally requested Thursday morning by the White House, was added to an $8 billion emergency spending bill to provide disaster aid to more than 20 states. It brings the total disaster relief earmarked specifically for the upper Midwest to almost $500 million.

Twenty-five thousand people in North and South Dakota and Minnesota have registered so far for federal flood-disaster assistance, FEMA officials in Grand Forks announced Thursday morning. Of those, the majority, were from North Dakota.

FEMA officials said a plan is under consideration to buy low-lying houses at pre-flood market value. Those houses would then be demolished and the area turned into city-owned public spaces. The agency also plans to reimburse 100 percent of the cost for all eligible emergency work undertaken by the government in the three states through April 30.

The work could include debris removal, search and rescue operations, temporary facilities for schools and other community services, demolition of unsafe structures, transportation of emergency workers, supplies and equipment and other assistance to alleviate immediate threats to life and property.

Reuters contributed to this report. and Correspondent John Holliman contributed to this report.

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