Life does not always run smoothly in North Dakota; there have been times when disasters have struck here, shaking up the entire nation. The whole state had to come together to help rebuild and move on, and we’ve done it many times. Looking back, these are possibly the top five worst disasters to ever happen in the North Dakota:
1. 1888 Schoolhouse Blizzard
These sketches were published in a newspaper, depicting the horrors people experienced during this extremely deadly blizzard that occurred on January 12, 1888. 235 people lost their lives to this storm. The high death toll was mostly due to the fact that the fast-moving storm was unexpected. The weather had been relatively warm that day after a cold front a few days prior. Life carried on as normal and people went about their business, most feeling safe to go to work and school since the weather seemed to be nice.
The storm blew through Montana and by midday it was already barreling across North Dakota without much of a warning. Because of this, many people who were out, especially schoolchildren, were now trapped where they were. A lot of them attempted to venture home or to safety but were caught out in the blizzard, and that would end up being their demise.
2. 1997 Red River Flood
This devastating flood resulted in $3.5 billion in damages. It was considered the worst flood of the Red River since a flood over a century and a half before it. Thousands of people were affected, mostly in Grand Forks, by the extreme rise of the water that reached over 3 miles inland despite the best efforts of building sandbag levees and all other preventive tactics. Many people in North Dakota still remember it today, and it will remain one of the worst natural disasters in the state's history. Luckily, no one died as a result of the flood.
3. 1945 Michigan Train Wreck
The worst rail disaster to ever happen in North Dakota occurred in the small town of Michigan. A Great Northern Railway train known as the Empire Builder collided with another Empire Builder it was following. The trains were carrying many soldiers returning home from WWII and were set to be about 20 minutes apart from each other heading in the same direction.
The first train had to stop shortly after going through Grand Forks in order to inspect a smoking component of the engine and make quick repairs. This caused the delay between trains to become dramatically shorter as the second train was still chugging along at full speed. The lead train reached Michigan and again had to stop to inspect the engine, and at that point they realized that the second train was fast approaching. The engineers tried to quickly get the train moving again, but it was too late. The second train collided with the first from behind. All but two of the people in the rear car of the first train died, one of whom died shortly after being freed after spending six hours trapped in the wreckage.
There has been no other rail disaster in North Dakota to rival this one, and hopefully never will.
4. 2011 Souris River Flood
The last flood of this magnitude involving the Souris River occurred over a century before this. The 2011 flood was by far one of the worst in the entire state, especially recently. Over 11,000 people had to be evacuated and there was millions of dollars in damages as a result. Luckily, there were clear warnings when waters began to overtop dikes placed around Minot, and most people were evacuated in time. The entire flood broke many records and will probably be the worst flood in North Dakota for many years to come.
5. 1920 North Dakota Blizzard
This deadly blizzard hit North Dakota on March 15, 1920. It caused telephone lines to go down across the state and rail lines to be closed, as well. 34 people were killed in this blizzard and, like the Schoolhouse Blizzard, most were children who were caught out in the storm while attending one-room, country school houses far from their homes.
These disasters will forever be remembered for the devastation they brought to North Dakota. One of the other worst disasters – and arguably the most terrible to ever happen in the state – was the 1957 Fargo Tornado,
which you can read about here. It, and most of these disasters, are chilling reminders that nature can show no mercy, even in the Peace Garden state.