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Fargo Holds Firm as Red River Crests

Mon April 06, 2009 - Midwest Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

FARGO, N.D. (AP) Just as the Red River began retreating from Fargo’s hastily fortified levees, the city’s tired residents stared down a winter storm expected to bring up to 14 in. of snow and wind-whipped waves that could worsen the flooding March 30.

Engineers weren’t worried about the snow because it’s unlikely to melt soon. They were concerned about waves that could crash against the sandbag levees, further weakening them. The forecast called for the storm to move in by early afternoon March 30 and last until evening of March 31.

The higher the wind speed, the higher the threat, Jeff DeZellar, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said March 31.

“The forecast that we saw was 25 mph or more, and certainly that’s enough wind to create some wave action on the river,” he said.

The National Guard was placing a layer of plastic-type sheeting over the levees to help them hold up against high waves. “It’s important to get as much work done as we can before the storm comes,” DeZellar said.

The Red River dropped slightly to 39.5 ft. (12 m) March 30 — less than record highs set earlier in the week but still nearly 22 ft. (6.7 m) above flood stage. City officials have said they would breathe easier when the river falls to 37 ft. (11.2 m) or lower, expected by April 4.

“The difficulty with an epic flood is nobody has been through it before,” said city commissioner Tim Mahoney. “You can’t ask someone, ’Hey, what’s going to happen next?’”

It will be more waiting to see if the levees — quickly constructed by Fargo’s men, women and children — can hold firm.

No School This Week

The week began with much of Fargo shut down, school called off for the entire week and many businesses keeping their doors closed. And the massive sandbagging effort began winding down after thousands of volunteers turned out around the clock to fill up bags. Fargo filled 3.5 million sandbags, and has an inventory of 450,000.

The flood was caused by an enormous winter snowfall that melted and combined with more precipitation to send the river to record levels. The river flows from south to north through the tabletop terrain of North Dakota, providing few opportunities to drain.

Snow was moving toward Fargo from the south-central part of the state, where a slow-moving blizzard brought more than foot of snow. The storm came a week after snowmelt and a Missouri River ice jam caused major flooding. Residents have been told to keep their sandbags handy as a precaution.

On March 29, helicopter crews sought to fortify the levees in Fargo by dropping 11 one-ton sandbags near vulnerable areas of the dike system. Above them, an unmanned Predator drone from the Grand Forks Air Force Base flew to watch flood patterns and ice floes. North Dakota has more than 2,400 National Guard troops engaged in the flood fight across the state.

The helicopters focused on an area near a middle- and high-school campus that was inundated after floodwaters briefly breached a levee March 29, causing considerable damage before officials quickly pumped out most of the water.


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