GRAND FORKS, N.D. — The people of Grand Forks, N.D. know better than most that coming back from a major disaster takes time. Two and a half years ago, they suffered through a devastating flood and a terrible fire. Once they got people in housing again, they decided to concentrate their energy on rebuilding their downtown area.
Downtown Grand Forks was a sea of misery, a $1.5 billion mess. The section most damaged by the flood and fire is now a park. The rest of the area is under construction.
Everywhere you look, there are new sidewalks, new facades, fresh coats of paint, the buzz of heavy equipment.
Like some of the roads in eastern North Carolina, many of the streets in downtown Grand Forks were badly damaged by flooding. Two and a half years later, they are still in pretty bad shape.
The roads were left for last, because officials knew they would have a lot of heavy construction traffic. So, the streets get repaved last.
"In addition to bringing your community back and helping your people, you've got to rebuild your tax base," says Grand Forks Mayor Pat Owens.
To do that, the city made rebuilding its downtown a priority. And leading the way was theGrand Forks Herald, which burned in the fire.
"We wanted to put something on the skyline of Grand Forks that gave people hope," explains publisher Mike Maidenberg.
The paper moved its presses, but rebuilt its offices bigger and better than before. But they are one of a handful.
There are still many vacant and boarded-up storefronts. They are two-and-a-half-year-old Band-Aids covering lasting damage from the record flood.
"Our vision can't happen fast enough. We can't make the buildings come up fast enough. You can't bring the people back to housing fast enough," Maidenberg says.
Owens agrees. "There's a lot of creativity going on downtown. But it does take time, and it takes money."
Grand Forks is spending the majority of its $171 million in HUD funds downtown. It is also offering $870,000 in grants to businesses. And there is a $350 million dike project; $63 million is being paid by people in Grand Forks to guard the future for a newer, safer, brighter downtown.
"We really did the best that we possibly could. And mistakes are made," Owens says. "But you can't keep beating yourself for them, or you'll never recover."
When will Grand Forks declare itself healed? When will the paper run a headline that says, "We've Recovered"?
"In two or three years, we could run that for downtown," Maidenberg says. "I think in maybe three or four years, we could run that for the people who are building the new housing in the southern part of town."
"And then for many people, we'll never be able to run that headline, because they will not have recovered," he says. "That's one of the tragedies of floods is that some people get hurt so bad that they cannot recover. And that is a tragedy, but that is reality also."
Despite the flood and fire, the Grand Forks Herald never missed a day of publication. Its new Corporate Center Building will open in a few weeks and will provide up to 1,200 new jobs in the downtown area.