Voices of Minnesota

The Red River Floods of 1997 Oral History Project

Breckenridge, Minnesota, April 15, 1997.


DATE: 1997-1998

INTERVIEWER: Terry Shoptaugh

The Oral History Project was jointly conceived by staff at the Minnesota Historical Society and the Northwest Minnesota Historical Center to document the 1997 flood and its effects on the people living in the Minnesota communities along the Red River of the North. Although floods have occurred with some regularity along the Red River (with major flooding in 1897, 1943, 1969, and 1979) the flooding in April 1997 was unprecedented. Several communities were inundated by flood waters, suffering damage that has run to billions of dollars in loses to property and income. Thousands of residents in Ada, Breckenridge, East Grand Forks, and other towns were forced to evacuate their homes because of high water. Some homes were totally destroyed, others were badly damaged.

Given the scale of the flood, it would be impossible to interview everyone affected by it. Instead, this project has focused on a selection of narrators who discuss their individual experiences during the events of April 1997. These individuals include government officials and private citizens, including home and business owners. Also represented are specialists in weather forecasting, insurance, and psychological counseling. As a result, the interviews provide detailed discussions of the events during the flooding, of the recovery efforts since the waters receded, and of the issues that have been raised in planning for confronting future flooding in the Valley.

Taken together, these interviews, when used with more traditional evidence compiled to document the 1997 flood, should provide researchers with an excellent picture of how this natural disaster altered both community development and individual lives in the Red River Valley of the North.

LENGTH OF INTERVIEWS: 43 hours 38 minutes

TRANSCRIPTS: 1,174 pages