Governors tour flooded Red River Valleyby Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio
Flood preparations are finished in Fargo-Moorhead and people are waiting for the river to crest in the next day. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven both toured the area Tuesday. The governors say the flood fight appears to be well in hand.
Officials say it appears rain forecast for this week will not push the river significantly higher.
Moorhead, Minn. — If the Red River rises as far as forecasters expect, it will be the fourth highest flood on record in Fargo-Moorhead.
The preparations so far have been calm and well-organized, with little of the frantic activity that's been part of recent major floods in 1997 and 2001.
Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland says local officials have learned from experience.
"Every time we have a major flood we learn more things. We get more property out of harms way. We figure out what that river is doing to us, and we're better prepared for what the river can throw at us," says Voxland.
National Weather Service projections show the Red River beginning to slowly fall starting sometime Tuesday night. Rain expected Wednesday and Thursday may prolong the high water, but is not expected to make the river go higher.
Mayor Voxland says all city officials can do now is watch and wait.
"Are those dikes holding? Are they leaking? Are the pumps working? It's going to be three or four days now of watching the pumps, watching the sandbag dikes and watching the river drop," says Voxland.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty flew along the Red River Tuesday with officials from state emergency management and the National Guard.
Pawlenty says he's confident flood fighters are well prepared.
"This is a significant concern and challenge, but in most areas it is under control and it's going to be OK," says Pawlenty. "That doesn't mean there won't be some significant cleanup, and there isn't going to be some damage in isolated areas, but for most of the towns and townships and communities in the valley, it's going to be OK."
Residents of two small communities north of Moorhead were busy sandbagging Tuesday. In some cases, sandbags had to be hauled in by boat. Local officials say they expect to escape without major damage to homes.
Gov. Pawlenty has activated about 130 National Guard troops, to help with traffic control and monitor dikes. They're also prepared in case residents need to be evacuated, but Guard officials say evacuations are very unlikely.
Lt. Col. Eric Waage says local officials are feeling confident, even in the far northern reaches of the Red River Valley, where the flood crest is still a week away.
"In general, they feel they're well prepared. There is some concern about snow depths -- there's a couple of inches of water content in the snow. They've been lucky in that each night it's been freezing and locking that moisture into place and gradually releasing it," says Waage.
Rain that's forecast for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday still has some officials a little nervous. With rivers already full, heavy rain could cause flooding over a wider area.
North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven says his flight over the Red River Tuesday showed there's a lot of water still waiting to get into the river. He's says rain means the river will stay high longer against temporary dikes. But Hoeven is optimistic flood preparations will keep the Red River at bay.
"Folks in the valley have been through this drill before, and it shows. Clearly we remain concerned, and we're concerned about a weather event if we get a significant amount of rainfall, but these folks are showing that they know what to do," says Hoeven.
In some areas, officials are already assessing damage and beginning repairs. Clay County Sheriff Bill Berquist says water caused a lot of damage to roads in rural areas.
"It's going to be quite extensive because we had many washed out. Fast movement in the ditches took out a lot of shoulders of the roads," says Berquist. "So there's going to be a lot of road construction, and they've already started getting some of those that have cleared out.
As the flood waters move north, local officials will start adding up the cost in hopes of a federal disaster declaration. Some communities are also using the flood to point out the need for more state funding, to improve levees which will protect against future floods.
- All Things Considered, 04/04/2006, 5:18 p.m.