Grand Forks Flood 2018. Photo by Kathleen Saylors

One year later, I know we’ll be okay

‘Collectively, we can’t afford to be complacent, nor can we afford for our leaders to be.’

While I left the Boundary last month to head back to the land of the 401 and Toronto, I’ve been thinking about Grand Forks a lot lately, especially this week. It’s been one year since the flood, and thinking about it now, it feels like it changed everything.

I don’t think I knew what was about to happen at first. That Tuesday and Wednesday went like all the others, I got the newspaper ready. There were warnings out about the rising water levels, so I put warnings in the paper: Make sure to check our website, and the RDKB’s website, for the latest information. I made sure our office staff knew where to direct people if they called looking for information (and many, many people did), and then eventually, I helped facilitate getting us all out of there on Thursday when downtown began to flood.

But the true scope of what happened didn’t hit me that day, even as I waded through nearly a foot of water where there used to be a road. No, I don’t think I really understood until much later.

I’ll say it again: I am lucky. My home was dry. My job was secure. I continued to receive a paycheque, and to come to work every day and go home to my own bed every night.

But a year on I think about how the flood has affected me, and I wouldn’t say there was no impact. I remember it seemed like I couldn’t turn my brain off. Especially in the first few weeks, I was working long days and fell into bed at night utterly exhausted, but once there, I’d be awake for another two or three hours trying to figure out what to do next. What was the next story? What did people need to know? Double and triple checking the information I was publishing, hours later, my brain running names, spellings, web addresses and minutia about water flow and snowpacks long into the night.

Even once that immediate kind of work eased up a bit, I still didn’t sleep well. I was worried, constantly, even by my usually high-strung standards.

I worried about the staff in the EOC, still working long and stressful days. I worried about the volunteers, whether they were eating well and were staying hydrated. I worried about my friends and how their homes were faring, and the people sandbagging and how their backs must ache. I worried about the businesses I frequented, whether they’d open up again and how their employees must be hit hard. I worried about people in Grand Forks who didn’t have homes, how miserable it must be not to have a place to get dry. It was endless.

But what bothered me most, I have to say, was knowing my energy wasn’t best spent making sandwiches or filling sandbags. The best and most helpful thing I could do for Grand Forks was my job. So that’s what I did, wholeheartedly. Honestly, it felt like a hollow comfort. Shouldn’t I have been doing more?

A year later, that’s still hard, but my perspective has changed, too. Now, I worry about new things – is the money going to come through from the government to help rebuild? Are people going to forget about Grand Forks, or give up on it? Is this going to happen again? What does climate change look like for Grand Forks, and can it adapt? Of course, it’s easier to admit all of this now that I’m not the town’s reporter anymore.

But despite my many worries and even though I don’t live here anymore, I take comfort.

I know that Grand Forks has strong and compassionate local leadership, and though you might not always agree with their methods, you cannot deny they have Grand Forks and the Boundary at the centre of everything they do. I know that our city and regional staff are highly competent and do their best every day to make sure people are safe, especially in emergencies like we had last year. I know that people of Grand Forks care deeply about each other and in the many communities of people that make up our city, we will take care of each other.

We have a lot to be proud of. Every day, the city looks more and more like it did before the flood – shops are opening, people are out on the streets and events are coming back. But it’s not the same, we know that, and I think we can feel it too. I think we know now that we have to advocate for ourselves. Collectively, we can’t afford to be complacent, nor can we afford for our leaders to be.

A year later, if I had to sum it up, I’d say that I’m so very proud of the town I came to call my own, and that I know Grand Forks will be okay. There’s plenty of work to do – but I know you’re up for it.

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