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Bouncing back in Oslo

Rain came down on the tin roof over the picnic shelter, forcing everyone to shout loudly as they crowded around tables of food to celebrate recovery from the toughest flood this flood-prone town has endured.

The falling, puddling water was a too-apt setting for remembering what Mayor Florence Elden called "the most difficult and longest flood in our history."

From late March until late April, the city of 340 was pretty much cut off from the outside world once still-half-frozen Red River water filled with jagged ice floes cut up the only roads coming in from the west and the east.

The post-traumatic stress reactions are "huge" in Oslo, said the Rev. Deb Hanson, pastor of Zion Lutheran in town, a main organizer of the event that included games for kids and a Red Cross mental health expert speaking to adults. "It's been year after year of flooding," and the long-term stress has shown up in many problems for families long affected by flooding, Hanson said.

"That's why we had this, to get people together again and give thanks that the flood is gone."

Chuck and Lola Gowan and Duane and Audrey Paschke sat together over hamburgers, hot dogs and watermelon and remembered their city's history of too-much water.

"We've had 42 floods in 52 years," Chuck Gowan said. "We had six floods in three years."

Duane Paschke remembers missing the last month of school in 1950, one of the years that had a double flood. Other floods actually hit the city, inundating homes. This year, the dike held, but the town was cut off for the longest-ever harsh effect of a flood.

"We didn't get out of town for two, three weeks," Duane Paschke said, adding, "We didn't get our Herald delivered for 17 days."

For the Gowans, a journey of 8,000 miles began with the single step of ferrying their suitcases by boat from their West Oslo, N.D., home to a road on their way to three weeks in Asia during the flood.

Help from an Army

In another sort of first, The Salvation Army brought big-time help to Oslo.

The Grand Forks Corps office of The Salvation Army, freed to help others in the region because of Grand Forks' new flood wall built after the Flood of 1997, has spent lots of time in Oslo since late March providing food and housing and other help. So Thursday, Army workers and volunteers brought the food for the picnic and cooked the burgers and dogs. The Salvationists passed out vouchers for food, motel rooms and gas totaling $61,000 in Oslo this spring, said Maj. Ed Wilson, co-commander with his wife, Maj. Dee Wilson, of The Salvation Army's Corps office in Grand Forks.

"I know you people come to Grand Forks at Christmas and see those bell-ringers and have been dropping money in those red kettles for years and years," Wilson told the 100 Oslonians who braved the dark clouds and downpour to gather in the park. "You might have wondered all those years where does that money go? This is where it goes. We help out wherever and whenever we can."

Myra O'Denius moved to Oslo from San Diego in February, "just in time for two blizzards and a flood," she said. That same month, her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Steven O'Denius, was deployed to Afghanistan, where he's running a motor pool near Kandahar until early next year.

Myra got out of their rural home south of Oslo only once in 4½ weeks, she said.

Between great neighbors who watched her ring dike and driveway and The Salvation Army, where she got sandwiches and water, O'Denius said she felt well-cared for.

Her eyes well with tears as she remembers getting an Easter basket, a surprising gift from the Salvation Army in the midst of a flood that went on forever.

"That was a real blessing," she said, removing her glasses to wipe her eyes.

Mayor Elden read a prepared thank-you to the many who helped her city so much.

"We are very lucky to live in a community where everyone comes together in a time of need," she said.