Twenty years after historic flooding hit towns on the Minnesota-North Dakota border, public officials say the $409 million spent on a new levee system has paid off.

Twenty years after historic flooding hit towns on the Minnesota-North Dakota border, public officials say the $409 million spent on a new levee system has paid off.

Eleven downtown Grand Forks buildings were destroyed when the Red River flooded the streets in April 1997, Minnesota Public Radio (http://bit.ly/2p0DGZk) reported. The flood displaced more than 50,000 people in the area, and the devastation drew national attention as well as a visit from then-President Clinton.

Congress moved quickly to fund the massive levee, and entire neighborhoods were demolished to make room for it.

More than a decade after the 1997 flood, East Grand Forks saw its fourth highest flood on record, and it was a completely different experience.

"I felt a little guilty that year not throwing sandbags in a 49-foot flood. I'm like shouldn't I be somewhere throwing bags and whatnot?" said Steve Gander, mayor of East Grand Forks. "At the crest, I maybe wasn't supposed to but I stood on the levee behind my house. The water was about 15 feet below the top of the levee. I went in the house and slept like a baby."

He said flood control saved the area.

"This place would have dried up into a ghost town without flood control," Gander said. "How confident are you putting half a million or a million-dollar investment in an apartment, in an optometry clinic, in a in a town that's vulnerable to flooding? Not going to happen."

Grand Forks officials say downtown is stronger than it was before the flood with more small businesses, shops and entertainment options.

"The flood protection project was essential for a recovery. And our confidence and our peace of mind." said Grand Forks Mayor Michael Brown. "The town is thriving and growing and rebounding quite well.