Fargo-Moorhead picks up the pace of flood preparationby Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio
Moorhead, Minn. — It appears the flood will strike Fargo-Moorhead the hardest of any community when it reaches its expected crest on Friday. Forecasters say the Red River could reach 41 feet - the highest river level ever recorded in Fargo-Moorhead.
As a steady rain falls, a line of soaking wet volunteers passes bags of sand from the driveway of Becky O'Meara's house to a backyard dike.
The slightly built woman has been handling the 30 pound bags most of the day. She thought the dike was nearly done, then the flood forecast changed.
"We might have to go up another foot," said O'Meara.
O'Meara says it's been a struggle to get enough volunteers to fill and move the 25,000 to 30,000 sandbags needed in her backyard.
"We've had some really hard working ones, but last time we had a lot more," said O'Meara. "Last time we had a hundred or more, than came and went. This time we kept calling the volunteer center, but they just didn't turn out I guess."
It appears this flood caught many people by surprise.
Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland says a spring flood in the Red River Valley is normally a slow process. Typically, the city has two or three weeks to prepare. This year there's only about a week to get ready for a potential record flood.
"This is really unusual, and this is a real panic for all of us. We need volunteers, and we need to remember, we need them every day for the next several days so we can win this fight," said Voxland. Moorhead officials say they're not sure how many additional sandbags they'll need. Fargo officials estimate they will need to fill 400,000 bags a day this week to meet the demand based on a higher than expected flood crest.
And earthen clay dikes will also need to be raised, a difficult task in rainy weather. Fargo City Engineer Mark Bittner says given the higher river forecast, the Corp of Engineers will need to build levees in several new locations.
"The corp is working on hiring additional contractors. We're working on getting more trucks into town. We anticipate we are three to four days to get to the levels to protect us to 42 feet," said Bittner.
City officials are asking businesses to allow employees to volunteer for sandbag duty this week. Police are asking motorists to avoid unnecessary travel near the river.
Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist says he's run out of patience with sightseers.
"I bet you 30 times I have people driving 10 miles an hour, 'Oh boy, look at that.' Well next time I'm going to pull you over, and you'll be out there sandbagging. That might be your only choice, or you're going to jail," said Berqquist.
The tension is evident in the faces and voices of officials in Fargo-Moorhead.
It's also evident in neighborhoods around the city where volunteers worked late into the night in the rain.
Bernie Larson's shoulders slumped when he heard the potential flood crest was raised an additional foot. His sandbag dike is nearly done, but it's not high enough, and he doesn't have room for a larger dike.
"Forty-41 as best as we can gauge it, and hope for the best. You can only do so much. Not feeling real confident this time. It's just too high. Not enough room to work it right. It's just too high," said Larson.
City officials are urging volunteers to turn out to keep the sandbagging operation going around the clock for the next four days as Fargo-Moorhead prepares for what could be its worst flood in recorded history.
- Morning Edition, 03/23/2009, 6:55 a.m.