GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- At just around the halfway point of the first period of Thursday’s game between Canada and Finland at the 2005 World Junior Hockey Championship, an announcement came over the loud speaker that some of the major highways in North Dakota and Canada had been closed due to a winter storm that hit the area.
Over 400 hockey fans that had traveled to see the World Juniors were stranded in Grand Forks, N.D. without a place to stay. “There was no chance for most of these people to get a hotel room or find any other accommodations,” said Paula Kohl of the American Red Cross. “We thought that we’d rather have people taken care of than having them out on those roads and facing possible trouble.”
The American Red Cross, along with the City of Grand Forks and the Alerus Center, a local events center that features University of North Dakota football games, set up a makeshift shelter for about 385 stranded fans in the ballroom section of the building.
“That room can hold up to 2,500 people for a sit down meal,” said the Alerus Center’s Kevin Dean. “The room held everybody quite adequately.”
“In Grand Forks we are lucky enough to have two large facilities like the Alerus and Engelstad Arena.”
On such short notice, the Red Cross pulled off an emergency shelter with a staff of about 10 volunteers. “The Canadians that stayed there were extremely helpful with the unloading of trucks and setting up the shelter,” said Kohl. “It would have taken a lot longer to put together if the people who stayed there weren’t helping us out so much.”
There were no events taking place at the shelter for hockey fans, but there was room for those that wanted to socialize and those who wanted rest alike. “We set up a room for people to stay up, watch T.V. and visit,” said Kohl. “We also set up a darkened room for people to get rest if they wanted that.”
The Alerus Center provided their dining facilities to the stranded motorists in order for them to get a hot meal and some other necessities. “We felt good that we had a place for people to go in a time of uncontrollable circumstances,” said Dean. “People were surprised to find out that Grand Forks had a place like this set up for an occurrence like this.”
With most of the stranded fans from Manitoba and the fact that the borders were closed for the night, the shelter provided a place for people to go despite the fact that most of them had never been to Grand Forks before. “The atmosphere was great, we had people there until the roads were open and ready for travel,” Kohl said.
The Premier of Manitoba, Gary Doer, along with U.S. Representative Earl Pomeroy, Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown and members of the Emergency Management Service made the decision to provide the shelter.
“Here in Grand Forks, we are no stranger to emergencies,” said Dean. The city was engulfed in a flood in 1997 and was considered a National disaster. “The general feeling of the people was that they were very grateful.”
The shelter was opened until noon on New Year’s Eve, and most of the stranded fans were off and running as soon as they left. “When you’re hosting people from all over the world, you want to be the best host you can be,” Dean said.