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Red River flood survivors look back

Cookie Ebsen remembers most vividly the eerie sounds that drifted into her Fargo home with the flood of 1997. Ebsen recalls the clatter of ice chunks floating by at night, not knowing where they were or what they might crash into. "Alarms from th...

Cookie Ebsen remembers most vividly the eerie sounds that drifted into her Fargo home with the flood of 1997.

Ebsen recalls the clatter of ice chunks floating by at night, not knowing where they were or what they might crash into.

"Alarms from the sewer systems were going off, up and down the river almost in tune to their blinking red lights that were coming to me in the reflecting ripples from the river," she noted.

Fargo's Maxine Fagerland, too, remarked on the sounds of the flood.

That's what she remembers most about that devastating time.

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"The horrible sounds of helicopters, moving trucks and the beeping of trucks backing up," Fagerland recalled.

"It felt like a war zone or what I envision a war zone to look, feel and sound like."

Fagerland and Ebsen were among the nearly 40 people to share their memories on the Forum's Web site ( www.in-forum.com ), where readers were asked to write in with their personal memories of the flood.

Stories were submitted by local residents as well as some who watched from as far away as Colorado and Texas with CNN as the point of reference.

Although each memory was distinct, many entries expressed the same themes.

For instance, Fagerland, Ebsen and several others all wrote about the sounds associated with the flood.

But for Tom Kloster of Breckenridge, Minn., it was the lack of sound that he remembers most about that spring.

"The silence the day after the snowstorm ... You could have heard a pin drop in the middle of the street, if you could have seen the street because of all the water and snow," Kloster wrote.

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The only sound that could be heard, according to Kloster, was the noise of the National Guard 6x6 driving down the street evacuating neighbors.

While many of the responses dealt with the sounds, sights and smells of the flood, some of the greatest memories of flood had nothing to do with water, snow or destruction.

Rather it was the people many remember most colorfully when they think back to that spring.

Cindy Todd of Hendrum, Minn., said the flood changed her outlook on human nature.

"I always thought that if someone wanted to help, there must be something they wanted in return," Todd wrote. "We were much too exhausted to have anything to give in return."

But Todd said she shed many tears upon finding out that folks came to volunteer in her home, just because they wanted to help.

"Not only were their physical strengths appreciated, but also their listening ears, hugs and words of comfort," Todd noted. "The camaraderie that I felt in our community was incredible."

Fargo's Judy Olson Gartner remarked on how touching it was to see strangers from out of town in her yard sandbagging.

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Olson lived between the Oak Grove and Ridgewood neighborhoods, next to Mickelson ballpark.

"A 4-year-old child holding bags to be filled with sand, my 90-year-old neighbor giving me $10 for gas for the water pumps, neighbors bringing food and friends taking turns watching the pumps ..." Olson wrote. "It was touching and humbling, and I will always be grateful to all those who helped."

Many of the submissions, including Olson's, dealt with the way in which community members came together to lend a hand to those in need.

One of those helpers was Matthew Schmidt, a senior at Oak Grove Lutheran School at the time of the flood.

Through an e-mail, his mother revealed that the face in a flood photo appearing numerous times in the Forum throughout the past five years belongs to Schmidt.

He was photographed carrying sandbags through nearly waist-deep water just after being evacuated from his school. Schmidt had been in the building attempting to salvage library books, files and band instruments.

His mother, Vicki Schmidt, wrote about the events of that day.

She, like many others in the Red River Valley, was touched by people -- like her son -- who risked their safety to help a neighbor, friend or family member in need.

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Moments after the photo was taken, Matthew put down the sandbags and picked up his mother. He carried her on his back to safety when the floodwaters got too high.

"It was a powerful moment for me to be rescued by my son," she wrote. "His picture has been the signature picture of the flood these past five years. He is my hero."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mary Jo Almquist at (701) 241-5531

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