Fargo prepares for higher Red River crestby Tom Robertson, Minnesota Public Radio
Fargo, N.D. — The National Weather Service reports that the Red River will reach a new record crest by the weekend. The river will crest in Fargo at 41 feet by early Saturday afternoon. That's a foot-and-a-half above the all-time record set during the 1997 floods.
Until today, the weather service had not made a prediction on how high the water would reach - favoring a range of between 39 and 41 feet.
The update is partly the result of about three-quarters of an inch of new precipitation that fell in the form of snow in Fargo over the past 24 hours.
As a result of the announcement, Gov. Tim Pawlenty requested an expedited disaster declaration for seven counties along the Red River in Minnesota.
City officials in both Fargo and Moorhead held individual briefings this afternoon to discuss the weather outlook and to update their plans for the higher water levels.
"The bad news is the weather," said Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker. "The second bad news is the crest change. We're talking 41 feet, which is something higher than we've ever seen in the valley. I don't care how old you are, you've never seen this in the valley."
The change in crest prediction means volunteers will have to spend the next 48 hours raising many of the levees and sandbag walls protecting city neighborhoods to 43 feet. Some were built up only to 41 feet. That will likely require another 500,000 sandbags for Fargo by Friday.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty is seeking a federal disaster declaration for the seven Minnesota counties along the Red River.
Pawlenty sent a letter to President Barack Obama today, requesting an expedited declaration. The governor traveled to Moorhead and Breckenridge earlier this week to view the flood preparations and talk to local officials.
He says there's no reason to wait for the standard federal response.
"The typical pattern of these things is that after the event occurs, FEMA and others do a preliminary assessment, and then they certify that you've met the damage requirements and then the request gets granted," said Pawlenty. "But in the interest of trying to expedite all this, when the damage is obviously -- we think -- going to exceed that amount, we're just asking for it all up front."
The governor also held an executive council meeting to extend by 30 days the state emergency declaration he issued last Friday. He says there are now about 300 National Guard troops working along the Minnesota side of the river, with more on the way later this week.
President Obama has already issued a disaster declaration for the state of North Dakota.
The weather service has also narrowed its flood forecast for Grand Forks, the city hardest hit by the 1997 Red River flood.
The Red had risen to 42.5 feet in Grand Forks by midday, with a crest near 52 feet projected for early Monday afternoon. That would be short of the record of 54.4 feet set in 1997.
The flooding has prompted several road closures in western Minnesota, including part of Interstate 94 in Moorhead.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation say it has closed I-94 between the Red River and Highway 75. It plans to build a dike south of the closed road.
Other closures include Highway 75 from south of Perley in Norman County, north to Halstad, a small section of Highway 55 between Wendell and Elbow Lake, Highway 2 in Crookston at the 6th Street underpass, Highway 9 from Ada to Borup, Highway 200 from Ada to west Highway 75, and Highway 310 north of Roseau to the Canadian border.
Other roadways are expected to close later.
The department is urging motorists to call 511 to check on road conditions before traveling in the west-central part of the state, or anywhere else where flooding is likely.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
- All Things Considered, 03/25/2009, 5:16 p.m.