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Grief and Loss Still Flood Survivors in Grand Forks

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GRAND FORKS, N.D. — With every new sunrise, the people of Grand Forks, N.D. are just a little bit closer to recovery. Theirdowntown is being reborn.New neighborhoodsare popping up. But old wounds are slow to heal. "People were angry, and they were tired, and rightfully so," says Grand Forks Mayor Pat Owens.

Barbara Kramer and Janell Regimbal were in charge of Grand Forks Psychological Recovery. They received a $3 million crisis counseling grant from FEMA and hired over 100 mental health professionals who were sent out into the flooded neighborhoods to listen.

"We sent them out with research and said, 'You're going through a normal thing.' And that was really important in those early days," Kramer says. "People were stopping, and people were talking ... wanting to tell their story and having someone listen intently."

The psychology of recovery is a fairly exact science, and the people in Grand Forks say knowing that helped them cope.

"It's a time when they are really pushed to make a lot of decisions, really long-lasting ones. And it kind of becomes a surreal time," Regimbal says.

They say they have watched eastern North Carolina go through its phase of heroism and tragedy. Through the phase of community, we all pitched in to help each out. And then, we entered the phase of disillusionment, which can last from one to three years.

"They can't even talk about it two and a half years after the fact," says Kevin Dean, Grand Forks public information officer.

In Grand Forks, there was an increase in clinical depression, suicidal behavior, domestic violence, and alcoholism.

"Somebody needs to be out in the community talking about those things, to help distinguish between a normal response in an abnormal situation, and when does an individual need additional supportive services," Regimbal says.

They have a saying in Grand Forks: "just the basement," meaning if you only had water downstairs, you were lucky.

But survivor guilt be the worst for those with no damage, nothing to show for the flood, no connection to the suffering.

"Over time when you hear each others' stories it's easy to say, 'Oh you had it so much worse than I did,' and then you pull away. And you think 'I don't have the right to say how hurt or worried I am because it was worse for you,'" Regimbal says.

"It's very important that those survivors be there to support those people whose lives were in upheaval. And not feel so guilty that they stay away," Kramer says.

People here say arming themselves with information was the first step in seizing control of their lives again.

There was blame and division and second guessing and bitterness. -->Two and a half years later, they are still working through grief and loss.

"Things will probably never be normal again. It will be a new normal," Regimbal says.

"We cleaned up fast and we cleaned up pretty good, but there are still some leftover mental health issues going on for us that we need to continue to address," Kramer says.

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Jim Payne, Reporter
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