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Katrina sparks memories of 1997 flood

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Bailey Espelin, 9, is donating money she makes from her pop stand to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. (MPR Photo/Bob Reha)
Every day people are confronted with new heart breaking images from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Flooded streets, destroyed homes, ruined businesses. The images hit close to home in Grand Forks, North Dakota, where eight years ago a historic flood, ravaged the city.

Grand Forks, ND — The town square market in downtown Grand Forks, is part of the legacy of the flood of 1997. This area was crowded with buildings back then, but they were destroyed by flood and fire. They've been replaced by a concrete plaza, complete with band shell and fountain.

Stop and ask folks if Hurricane Katrina reminds them of the flood of 1997 and they'll say yes. Dardi Olson says Katrina brings back some bad memories.

"I guess the feeling of helplessness that their feeling and being away from your home and not being able to come back," says Olson. "Not knowing what the situation is, not knowing what your going to do next, that total feeling of loss."

Olson says her heart goes out to the victims of Katrina and plans to donate some money to flood relief to help out. Others say watching the media coverage of the disaster has stirred memories they hoped to forget. Jenny Arel says seeing video of people who have lost everything is painful.

"The hardest part that I had was with losing so many valuable items, photo albums, a quilt that I had gotten from an aunt," says Arel. "Watching the looting is the part that gets to me."

For some, Katrina is a reminder that a disaster brings out the worst and best in people. Patricia Sobolik and her husband didn't live in Grand Forks during the flood, but they did help an old neighbor who lost her home.

"She had moved to Grand Forks. She was a widow lady with her child and when the town evacuated they moved out to the farm that we rent," says Sobolik. "We had to get their oil stove going because it hadn't been used in 10 or 15 years and got them a water tank in for them and got water for them."

Sobolik believes in times when people are facing terrible loss their neighbors will come to their aid. She says local churches and organizations like the Red Cross are busying raising money and materials to help the people affected by the storm.

Others are doing what they can. Nine-year-old Bailey Espelin was just a baby in 1997. She doesn't remember the flood. She sits on a cooler near her parents tent in the square. Bailey has spent most of the summer selling pop at her parents stand at the farmers market. A hand drawn sign informs potential customers she's raising money for flood relief.

"I'm giving half of my profits to the victims of hurricane Katrina, just because I want to help them out and give them some money and stuff," says Espelin.

Others are finding different ways to help hurricane victims recover. Doug Osowski remembers the challenges of working in Grand Forks during the flood. It's prompted him to sign up with the Red Cross as a volunteer. Osowski will give two weeks of his time to help with Red Cross relief efforts.

"I feel this is a way I can give to the community, this is the best way I can support it," says Osowski. "I don't have a lot of cash to donate but I do have some vacation time saved up where I can go down and donate that and help out people where I can. I think it will be a great experience."

Most people will tell you there are some obvious similarities between Grand Forks and New Orleans. Both cities have suffered millions of dollars in damages.

But people in Grand Forks say they were lucky, the flood claimed no lives in Grand Forks. It's taken time to rebuild their homes and community, but the thousand of lives lost in Hurricane Katrina will never be replaced.