Flooding threat increases in Fargo-Moorheadby Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio
Volunteers swarmed through Fargo-Moorhead neighborhoods to build sandbag dikes as the Red River rose quickly across backyards. More than two million sandbags will be needed for those backyards by later this week. The river could be near a record high crest by early Friday morning. Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker says fear and optimism describe the mood in the city today.
Moorhead, Minn. — Fargo-Moorhead officials put out an urgent call for volunteers and thousands responded.
Dozens of college students filled and carried sandbags in a south Moorhead neighborhood.
"I've actually been at this house for three days, off and on," said Concordia sophmore Jackie Olson. "But today Concordia actually cancelled classes which is unheard of. So here I am again."
Minnesota State University and North Dakota State also cancelled classes.
Just across the River in Fargo, more than 300 high school students were sandbagging in a neighborhood considering critical to protecting the city water treatment plant.
"It's a lot harder than I expected," said Jordan Knapkewicz a sophmore at Fargo South High School. "But it's a good cause. And then I was filling bags all weekend."
The students were so efficient in this neighborhood the city couldn't supply sandbags fast enough.
Scott Askerooth used a small loader to haul the filled bags from the street to the backyard. But by midday he was frustrated, standing in the driveway of a friend's home.
"Just waiting on sandbags for the last five hours. We had like 300 kids here and they kicked a**," he said. "You know, it's a lot of fun but you have to have sandbags in front of them or their attention span is about 3.4 seconds and they wander off. But no, they've been really good."
Down the street, things were quiet behind Jim Papachek's house. He was sitting on the sandbag dike taking a break while he waited for the city to bring more bags.
"I've got a heart condition, I had a stent put in. My wife is in the house worried sick about me," he said. "But, you know."
Papachek has lived in this house for 38 years. He says in 1997, students saved his house by building the sandbag dike.
After 1997 he built a permanent levee in his back yard. But this year he needs to pile sandbags on top of that levee.
So why does he stay here?
"You have turkeys in the yard and deer, and there was a coyote down here this spring. There was a bald eagle here just the other day," he explains. "Those little interludes make it worthwhile to live here."
About the only thing Papachek is likely to see in his backyard for the next couple of weeks is water. If National Weather Service forecasts hold, the river will be lapping at the top of his sandbag dike by Friday morning.
Fargo officials say they can't fill enough sandbags fast enough to beat that crest. So the city bought five miles of plastic interlocking boxes that can be filled with sand to quickly create a dike. They're hoping that will speed the dike building process in some neighborhoods.
"It's awfully hard to put together a process where you instill fear but with confidence," said Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker. "But that's where we want to be. We want people to be concerned about what's happening in our city. I mean this forecast is as bad as I've ever seen."
Walaker says they'll need thousands of volunteers this week. He's very concerned about what might happen if the river goes above 40 feet. The record high water mark from the 1997 flood was 39.6 feet.
The flood forecast for Fargo-Moorhead is not likely to improve, more heavy rain, and perhaps snow is expected for the next two days.
- All Things Considered, 03/23/2009, 5:20 p.m.