Volunteers along rising Red River fill more sandbags, build dikes to prepare for flood waters

By Dave Kolpack, AP
Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Volunteers along Red River in flood-fighting mode

FARGO, N.D. — Volunteers in North Dakota were in flood-fighting mode again Tuesday filling sandbags while contractors constructed clay levees along the fast-rising Red River to help protect nearby homes from the murky waters.

Officials don’t expect the river to get as high as last year’s record flood, but near Fargo and neighboring Moorhead, Minn. it is forecast to crest Sunday about 20 feet above the flood stage. The waters flowing over the river’s banks could threaten several houses, roads and parks.

“The citizens are out there working hard and doing a great job,” North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven said Tuesday.

Officials asked the community on Monday to step up their efforts to ensure neighborhoods were well-guarded. More than 415,000 sandbags were delivered to the area and residents cleared out their yards to make way for dikes to be built.

“The feeling of working together here continues to be unusual,” Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said. “We put out the plea yesterday to ramp up and they did.”

Many here are fairly optimistic that they’re ready for the flood.

“We’re all feeling pretty calm compared to last year,” Marc Shannon said Monday, while preparing to build a sandbag dike in his backyard.

Last year, about 100 homes in the area were damaged and thousands of people were evacuated after the Red River rose above the flood stage for a record 61 days and crested twice. Officials say they are better prepared this year for flooding thanks to early stockpiling of sandbags and the building of stronger levees across the region.

Miles of clay levees, more than 1 million sandbags and portable wall systems will be used to help protect an area of about 200,000 people in Cass County, N.D., and Clay County, Minn. Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist said a handful of residents outside the city left their houses mainly because they don’t want to be stranded by overland flooding.

“Everybody has to understand that this is for real,” Walaker said.

In Minnesota, Gov. Tim Pawlenty declared a state of emergency Monday in 28 counties affected by potential flooding across western, southern, central and eastern parts of the state. The order activated the National Guard to help with flood preparations and provide emergency relief.

Fargo resident Karry Hoganson was chopping down an evergreen tree in his neighbor’s backyard to help make room for a sandbag dike. When he bought his house in 2002, Hoganson said historical figures showed he would be sandbagging once every 10 years. But it’s been more like every other year, he said.

“I chose to live on the river. I’m not looking for sympathy,” he said. “I bought it for the view. I love it here.”

Sandbags — weighing about 20 pounds each — filled palates that lined streets and cul-de-sacs in several neighborhoods of higher-end homes along the river in south Fargo.

Over the next couple days, residents will stack the sandbags in an attempt to keep the river’s waters from their homes. In Dan Sholy’s neighborhood the dike will be 9 feet wide and 3 feet high.

While helping to unload the sandbag palates in front of his home, Sholy said he wasn’t too concerned about the flood.

“Right now they’re are getting everything all flagged and marked for the dikes,” he said.

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