Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Floods Make Good Neighbors

The border communities of Pembina, ND and Emerson, MB depended on each other for information. Two respondents said they often compared forecasts and used the activities of the other community — such as evacuation and return — as a gauge against which to measure their own activities:
I got everything I ever wanted from Emerson. I just had to call and they were...just wonderful....There was always someone there on the phone to answer [questions] and to tell us what they were doing. And it’s good to be able to get a little support or advice.

I called [Pembina regularly] to see what was happening.
When Pembina evacuated, the town offered their sandbags to Emerson. In turn, Emerson helped North Dakota residents load sandbags while their Canadian workers were loading their own bags. These American and Canadian elected officials recalled:
At the time, we left the extra sandbags and it was a way of helping Emerson...They didn’t take that many, and then they helped load up, a few of the rural people who came to get sandbags, they helped them load up and it worked out fine. We sent trucks in from Canada— again, with no customs clearance. We went to Pembina and got three semi-loads of sandbags...As we were loading our trucks, there were some residents from outside Pembina. They were coming in with their pick-up trucks to get sandbags. They didn’t know how to run the pallet fork so our operator would stop taking, putting sandbags in our trailer, and go over there and put one in the back of [their truck] and then go back to load and then turn around and then another farmer would come...There was no country there. They weren’t saying, “Hey, what’s that Canadian doing driving our forklift!” They were just happy for someone to put a pallet of sandbags on the back of their truck and away they went.
Some American citizens who depended on Manitoban hospitality actually assisted another Canadian operation. According to one respondent:
Prior to [Emerson’s] evacuation, we had people from Grand Forks [who had] already lost their homes [who] were heading to Winnipeg. I guess to take the invitation of Mayor Thompson and I guess some of the service groups here to stay [in Winnipeg]. [They were] coming up [Interstate 29] and, seeing the sandbagging initiatives from the duty free shop, pulled in and stopped, took their shirts off, and started sandbagging with us. And they said, “We already lost our homes. We’ve got nothing to do once we get to Winnipeg. We wouldn’t mind, you know, spending six to eight hours here helping you guys on the way.”....So there were Canadians and Americans working side by side.
Canada and the United States assisted each other when such activities served the overall interests of both countries, and because, over time, the social or economic ties within the region have produced a sense of affinity between the province and the states. Three respondents elaborated further:
Minnesota, North Dakota, and Manitoba are probably [more of a]community than we are with let’s say some of our sister provinces. You know, like it or not, that’s the truth. A lot of camaraderie and a lot of common ground.
They’re very good neighbors to us.
A lot of Manitobans and Winnipeggers go to Grand Forks to shop or just to have a get away, and similarly, so do Grand Forks people come to Winnipeg. In some ways there’s more affinity between these two cities than there is, you know, across [the country].
Manitoba, North Dakota, and Minnesota are physically and symbolically connected by the Red River. Valley residents viewed these three sub-national governments not only as adjoining jurisdictions but also as neighbors. Generally speaking, Canadians and Americans were willing to do what they could to help their neighboring country. These instances of cross-border assistance occurred on individual, collective, and organizational levels, and were particularly evident in border communities.


submitted to the
International Joint Commission
Ottawa / Washington

Tricia Wachtendorf

Disaster Research Center
University of Delaware
January 2000