Protecting neighborhoods from their first Red River floodby Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio
A frenzy of activity continues in Fargo-Moorhead has the communities prepared for a potentially historic flood. Waves of volunteers from around the region laid hundreds of thousands of sandbags on top of dikes just as fast as they were filled on Tuesday trying to keep thousands of homes in new neighborhoods dry from flood waters.
Fargo, N.D.-Moorhead, Minn. — Jim Wensman normally looks out his window at the Rose Creek golf course. But now, he sees large piles of dirt and hundreds of people passing sandbags hand to hand.
His home, built in 2002, is about a mile from the Red River. The house sits at 42 foot -- just a couple feet above the historic flood levels of 1997.
"I always thought 42 feet was plenty high. That's higher than they've ever had it," Wensman said. "The record was 40 feet back in 1897. At 42 you're two feet above that and should be okay. But never say never."
The Army Corp of Engineers dug deep holes in the golf course and piled the dirt into a 6-foot-high temporary levee.
The sandbags in Wensman's back yard are an extension of that earthen levee.
"Well, right here where we're standing it will be about two feet high," Wensman explains the height of the levee they're building. "As you go to the back corner about 100 feet away, it has to be four or five feet high."
This dike won't just protect Jim Wensman's house. Hundreds of his neighbor's homes are built on lots with lower elevations. "The river comes up, and the water rolls between the houses and down the street and it will flood everybody else who is 38 or 39 feet," he explained. "This is basically keeping everything from going all the way out to 64th which is about two miles away. So there's probably 1,000 that if this thing goes, the water will just start going down the street and fill everybody's basements."
Wensman says he hopes this flood will provide evidence the city needs a permanent levee system.
He says lots of money and volunteer energy will go into fighting this flood and when it's over the city will still be vulnerable to the next flood.
There are about 200 people passing sandbags from the street to his backyard. Many are Fargo high school students bussed in for the day.
There's a busload of people from around Paynesville, Minnesota.
Gary Roberg says 26 people from area churches made the three-hour drive this morning. Roberg says he closed his business and got on the bus because it seemed important to help.
"They definitely need help here and we can show love to people in other parts of the country," Roberg said. "Christ showed love for us and we can show love for others by helping out. You just get a reward by coming and helping."
City officials say those volunteers will be needed in large numbers until Thursday or Friday.
Across the river in Moorhead, Minn., most of the new housing developments are on higher ground and should be protected by levees along the river.
But at the Trollwood Performing Arts school, sandbags are being laid on top of a muddy earthen levee.
A large amphitheater rises behind the sandbaggers, part of a $12 million project that's that's not quite finished, but now threatened by the river.
Executive Director Vicky Chepulis says the school was built to be protected to a 40 foot river level.
"This was built up to protect to what was considered the worst case flood of the 20th century, but I guess we're in the 21st century now," she said.
Chepulis says she wants higher levees for future protection because record floods are becoming all too commonplace.
"I saw the headline in the paper today where our President said this is probably a reflection of some of the results of global warming and personally I believe we're going to see more high floods."
Chepulis is confident the sandbag dike can be finished by the end of the day and will protect the school.
That same optimism was heard across the community today as sporadic sunshine improved working conditions and raised spirits of volunteers and homeowners.
- All Things Considered, 03/24/2009, 5:24 p.m.