More than 5 inches of rain fell overnight Friday and early Saturday morning, flooding streets and causing closures throughout Grand Forks and East Grand Forks.
How many streets were barricaded in the two cities Saturday, Sept. 21, wasn’t clear. There were so many roadways inundated with water that police department spokesmen in both cities were having difficulty tracking them.
“At the moment, we don’t have an exact list because it’s changing so quickly,” Cpl. Jake Thompson, of the East Grand Forks Police Department, said Saturday morning.
It was the same story in Grand Forks. At 6:45 a.m., a portion of Columbia Road was closed by officers from the Grand Forks County Sheriff's Department and the local police department. It remained closed through mid-morning.
Some streets in the middle section of Grand Forks still had knee-high water as of 10 a.m., including the corner of South 17th Street and 28th Avenue South, where local residents stood and watched as cars attempted to cross the deep water. Craig Fetsch, a resident who lives nearby, rode his four-wheeler through the water to the delight of youngsters watching nearby.
“There are so many streets that are flooded and stalled vehicles that we don’t have enough officers to monitor,” a dispatcher at the Grand Forks Police Department said.
Early Saturday, the Highway Patrol announced a closure on Interstate 29 between Exit 141 and Exit 145 at Grand Forks.
The National Weather Service reported 5.29 inches of rain in Grand Forks. The 4.73 inches that fell until 1 a.m. was a record breaker, according to the weather service, beating 1.2 inches last year. A residential gauge in south Grand Forks near Discovery Elementary showed 4.85 inches. Near Larimore, a residential rain gauge recorded 4.5 inches. Unofficial reports are starting to drift in from the region, with area towns reporting even more than the Grand Forks total.
A few blocks east of UND’s Memorial Stadium, Barb Murphy and her family spent time vacuuming water from their basement Saturday morning. Despite drain tile and two sump pumps running, 2 inches of water covered her carpeted basement floor, Murphy said.
“I think it was coming down so fast, nothing could keep up,” she said.
She doesn’t know when the rain started seeping in the basement, but she discovered the soggy basement early Saturday morning.
“We had plans to go the (Twin) Cities and we were going to go at 6 a.m. We got up at 5:30 a.m. and went down to the basement. Our plans changed,” Murphy said.
Instead of driving to Minneapolis, she headed toward a friend’s house to borrow a vacuum . But flooded streets and stalled cars forced Murphy to abandon that plan and, instead, drive to a store and buy a vacuum, she said.
“There were cars on University Avenue parked in the median. There were cars on the berms and stalled. In town it's a mess,” Murphy said.
Her basement is another mess, she said.
The heavy rains pushed Grand Forks’ wastewater treatment plant to full capacity and the Grand Forks Public Works Department posted a message on social media asking residents to limit usage Saturday morning to allow the plant to catch up.
Rural Grand Forks County, meanwhile, had flooded fields, and ditches and streams were filled with water, but there were no road washouts or closures as of mid-morning Saturday, said a Grand Forks Sheriff’s Department spokesman
The number of shoppers at the Town Square Farmers market in downtown Grand Forks was down Saturday, but the the weekly “rain or shine” event continued as planned. About a dozen vendors from Grand Forks and across the region were unable to come because of flooded roads or other weather-related problems, said a Town Square Farmers Market spokeswoman.
Towing companies in Grand Forks, meanwhile, were swamped with calls Saturday. Interstate Towing and Recovery, which was responding to calls from law enforcement requesting towing for stranded vehicles around the city, was too busy to talk to a Herald reporter during the noon hour Saturday. The dispatcher who answered the phone expected work to be caught up enough later in the day to answer questions.
A spokesman at Gateway Cenex said he had turned down 50 towing requests as of 12:30 p.m. Saturday. He had to cut short his conversation with a Herald reporter because he had to answer yet another phone call.
Forum News Service reporter Sydney Mook contributed to this report.