• Robertson Adams

Come hell and high water - a loaner's view

A sudden spring thawing of the Red River of the North in 1997 left a tremendous amount of water overflowing the river's bank into Grand Forks, North Dakota and East Grand Forks, Minnesota. Thirty feet of brown water submerged downtown Grand Forks in a day, and The Grand Forks Herald, a Knight-Ridder newspaper property since the 1930s, was destroyed.

The parent company called up journalists and production staff from its 35 other newspapers, so I got the call to pack up and go there for two weeks. I joined about 40 others and we stayed in a motel outside of town close to where the newspaper moved overnight into an elementary school. I worked on reporting and interviewing Red Cross and first responders to create a series of information graphics and layouts long with local visual journalists Lee Hulteng and Tony Lone Fight. Everywhere in the town there was toxic sewage, evidence of fire and water, and endless things that had to be torn down and rebuilt.

The newspaper won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Community Service. I was so pleasantly surprised when I got a FedEx envelope in which I was awarded a "Piece of the Pulitzer" by Publisher Michael Maidenberg and Editor Mike Jacobs. I'll never forget sharing cigars and scotch and making friends, but every spring I think solemnly about the first responders, the lost homes, the uprooted lives and the persistence of a strong community to rebuild itself.

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