Red River flood fight moves northby Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio
Hundreds of volunteers were sandbagging in Fargo-Moorhead Monday as the Red River continues to rise. Residents in Breckenridge are relaxing as the Red River falls there. In Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, officials say they are well prepared for a river crest expected this weekend.
Moorhead, Minn. — It's an all too familiar scene in communities along the Red River -- volunteers with shovels, filling bags with 40 pounds of sand to build temporary dikes around homes.
Bernie Larson lives next to the river in Moorhead. He moved in two years ago. This is his first flood fight as a homeowner.
"I've helped others many times, but have not had to to it for myself yet," Larson says, adding that it's been a very stressful time.
Larson thought he had finished his sandbag dike this weekend. Then he discovered he'd miscalculated, and needed a higher dike. "We have to build up another foot and a half here, so I got friends and co-workers showing up again," says Larson. "We have about 140 feet to go, so that's about 3,000 sandbags."
That means several more hours of backbreaking work, but Bernie Larson has plenty of time. The Red River is expected to crest early Wednesday morning in Fargo-Moorhead.
On Sunday afternoon, the National Weather Service raised the crest in Fargo-Moorhead by six inches. That means the cities need to build more temporary clay dikes, and more homes need sandbag dikes.
Fargo Mayor Bruce Furness says the city is much better prepared than it was for the record flood of 1997. New permanent levees have been built, and many flood-prone homes have been removed.
This year's flood crest is expected to be about two feet lower than 1997.
Hundreds of volunteers came out Monday to fill sandbags. Mayor Furness says homeowners who need sandbags are getting help from the city and volunteers.
"We've got two days to get that done. The engineers are out there, they have a priority list to go through. I don't think we'll have any trouble doing that, as long as the crest doesn't rise again."
The wild card for flood fighters up and down the Red River valley is rain. The National Weather Service says there's a possibility of heavy rain on Thursday.
At the Red River headwaters in Breckenridge, Mayor Cliff Barth is breathing more easily. The river is falling steadily and Barth doesn't anticipate any problems, even if it rains.
"Thursday we're supposed to get an inch to two inches of rain depending on how the system comes in. That's really not going to hurt us at that point," says Barth. "I'm hoping by Wednesday night or Thursday we'll have dropped another couple of feet. We're just holding fast, keeping any eye on things. Business as usual."
As the high water moves north, overland flooding is surrounding farms and eroding deep gouges in dozens of rural roads.
The Red River is expected to crest late this week in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks.
Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown declared an emergency Monday, to make sure the city has the resources it needs to fight the flooding.
Two bridges have been closed between Grand Forks and neighboring East Grand Forks, Minnesota, because approach roads are flooded. That leaves just one bridge open between the two cities -- the Kennedy Bridge on U.S. Highway 2.
Grand Forks city official Kevin Dean says people are nervous.
"We just have so much more protection in place now than we have ever had before -- it does give those of us who are in charge of the protection some greater peace of mind," says Dean. "It may take some time for the public to have that same peace of mind, because they've never seen this tested."
Dean says Grand Forks' levee system is seven feet higher than the projected flood level.
All along the Red River this week, people will be keeping one eye on their sandbags, and the other eye on the sky.
- All Things Considered, 04/03/2006, 5:19 p.m.