Forecasters lower Red River flood projection upstreamby Dave Kolpack, Associated Press,
Steve Karnowski, Associated Press
Fargo, N.D. — (AP) - An unexpected dip in the Red River miles upstream on Tuesday cheered sandbaggers struggling to raise Fargo's protective dikes high enough to withstand possible record flooding.
The National Weather Service lowered its crest forecast for Wahpeton, N.D., and Breckenridge, Minn., downward to 18 feet by Wednesday morning, well below those cities' dikes.
Meterologist Jim Kaiser called it "definitely good news," but said it's too early to say whether the Red's projected crest in Fargo, 30 miles to the north, would be lowered as well.
The weather service revised its Wahpeton prediction because it got new data from river gauges to replace a computer-modeled prediction, Kaiser said.
The Red was expected to crest at Fargo between 39 and 41 feet by Saturday morning, though an updated forecast was due from the weather service later Tuesday.
An emergency dike to protect downtown Fargo was being raised to 42 feet, but the expected crest would threaten several neighborhoods and hundreds of homes in lower areas. The Red's record high at Fargo was 39.6 feet during 1997 flooding.
Hundreds of volunteers eyed another day of placing sandbags, with a goal of filling nearly 2 million.
"We don't see any fear," Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said. "We just see people working very hard."
North Dakota had mobilized 660 National Guard members by early Tuesday, and expected to have 800 working by day's end. Minnesota sent more than 300.
"It's nice to have them deal with our sand, not the Iraq sand," said Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D.
Besides sandbags, Fargo was deploying a portable wall system that shielded troops in Iraq and Afghanistan from bullets.
The system is made up of 3- and 4-foot-high interlocking containers with heavy steel frames covered by high-tech material. It took workers just half an hour Monday to set up about 1,000 feet of the containers that are then filled with sand.
"They are unbelievably quick," said Al Weigel, the city's director of operations. "Any doubts you may have about it are gone when you see the amount of sand that it holds. It's a nice system."
The system was designed for erosion control, but quickly became a popular product for the military, said Stephanie Victory, a spokeswoman for the company, Hesco Bastion. Its first meaningful test for flood protection came last summer in Iowa, she said.
The city of Fargo was operating three large machines capable of producing 15,000 sandbags an hour. Sand was also being piled on the floor of the Fargodome for people to shovel into bags the old-fashioned way.
While eastern North Dakota residents battled the Red River, people in ranching and farming country to the west fought the sudden rise of other streams swollen by melting snow and rain.
It took a National Guard helicopter to rescue Bernie and Jenny Martin when a creek around their farm near Carson rose faster than expected.
"We were on an island. We were totally surrounded by water," Bernie Martin said by phone from a friend's home.
Guard members used the helicopter because they were worried a boat would hit floating ice chunks or strong current.
At Linton, south of Bismarck, a rising creek forced the evacuation of about 75 homes, and about 10 people were rescued by boat.
Most of the 2,500 residents of Hazen, northwest of Bismarck, were filling sandbags Monday to fight the rising Knife River. Officials said five homes and the city's golf course were flooded. The water was nearly 6 feet higher than the flood stage of 21 feet, said Una Reinhardt, of the city's water department.
Voxland, the Moorhead mayor, said sandbaggers stayed cheerful Monday despite working in nearly a half-inch of rain. On Tuesday, the skies were cloudy but clear, although snow was in the forecast.
"Today looks like the last good day of sandbagging, so we're going to take every minute we can to get those sandbag dikes as high as we can," he said.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)