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On April 19, 1997, in one of the most dramatic floods in U.S. history, more than 50,000 people abandoned their homes and businesses in Grand Forks, North Dakota. A nation watched as the heart of downtown, engulfed by a river, burst into flames above the water line. Like Sebastian Junger?s The Perfect Storm, Red River Rising is a compelling true-life narrative about the confluence of natural forces and human error that shaped one of the greatest natural disasters in U.S. history. Ashley Shelby tells the dramatic stories of the flood: the suspenseful, blizzard-filled spring; the difficulties scientists had in predicting the river's crest; the struggles of people who fought the rising waters and of those who marshalled the city's forces. Despite technological advances in meteorology, despite the brute force of hundreds of earth movers, despite the utter determination of thousands who built and walked the levees, the river won. This book is a gripping story of the terrific cost of natural disasters and a fascinating portrait of how ordinary people rose to an extraordinary challenge. It is also a clear-eyed examination of the disastrous aftermath: the second-guessing and blame directed at the National Weather Service, at city and federal officials, and at the people of Grand Forks themselves as the city struggled to rebuild. With empathy and penetrating intelligence, Shelby uncovers the conflicts, conspiracy theories, and recriminations that tore at the community after the waters fell. Through the powerful stories of memorable individuals Red River Rising gives us a new perspective on disaster and community.
About the Author
Ashley Shelby received a degree in journalism from Indiana University and a Masters of Fine Arts in nonfiction writing from Columbia University. Her work has been published in The Nation, Gastronomica, Post Road, The Sonora Review, and The Portland Review, as well as in the anthology Looking Back. Her fiction has been awarded the William Faulkner Short Fiction Award. Shelby grew up in Minneapolis and now lives in New York, where she works in publishing and is the co-curator of the KGB Bar Nonfiction Reading Series.
Red River Rising is a beautifully written, haunting saga of a community in distress. Although the touchstone of this narrative is April 19, 1997, when one of the worst floods in U.S. history occurred, in truth it's a gripping human drama with timeless appeal. Words cannot fully express the admiration I have for Ashley Shelby's seamless and compassionate prose-style"--Douglas Brinkley, author of Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War and director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans
Red River Rising is a well-researched compelling narrative that increases in suspense as the water rises. Ashley Shelby depicts a city in crisis while conveying dramatically the complexity of intergovernmental workings and interpersonal relationships." --Douglas Whynott, author of A Unit of Water, a Unit of Time
From Publishers Weekly--Journalist Shelby applies the familiar trope of public catastrophe as historical watershed to her study of the record-breaking 1997 flood in Grand Forks, North Dakota, that forced the evacuation of 50,000 residents and touched off devastating fires after the Red River overtopped its dikes. The event, she contends, bifurcated the town?s sense of time into "before the flood" and "after the flood," a division she honors in the book. The first part is a lucid, sometimes gripping account of the gathering disaster, explaining the freak weather patterns that precipitated the inundation, the difficulties the National Weather Service had in predicting the unprecedented scale of the flood, and the desperate efforts of engineers to hold back the water. The second part is a thorough micro-history of the aftermath, detailing battles between flood victims and city officials over relief funds and the effects of a new dike system that expunged entire neighborhoods from the flood plain. Here Shelby gets mired in city politics-as-usual. She devotes much space to displaced residents' griping over the buyout offers they received from the city, and to a redevelopment bid for an Amazon.com warehouse that had little to do with the flood. Straining for pathos and meaning, she styles Grand Forks' last seven years as a single, apocalyptic "Joycean day" of "flood angst." That goes a bit far, but still, this is a well-researched portrait of a city coping with a crisis. Photos. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.