Obama declares emergency, evacuations beginby Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio,
Jessica Mador, Minnesota Public Radio
Fargo, N.D.-Moorhead, Minn. — LATEST UPDATE
On Thursday night President Barack Obama signed an order declaring Minnesota a disaster area.
In a press release, Gov. Tim Pawlenty said the state was grateful for the federal assistance, and noted the state was putting "everything it had" into its efforts.
On Thursday night, Fargo city officials announced that beginning tomorrow morning they will shut down some of the city's main streets to civilian traffic. Municipal vehicles will be the only ones allowed on the closed streets.
The Fargo city commission also approved a voluntary evacuation of up to 20,000 people tomorrow. The evacuation will become mandatory in 24 hours.
The evacuation area includes homes that are between the primary levees and the back or contingency dikes. Officials hope people will pack their belongings and leave their homes in an orderly manner throughout the day tomorrow before the evacuation becomes mandatory.
Residents in Moorhead, Minn. in the area South of I-94 and West of 8th Street are being told to evacuate the area, according to a press release from the city.
An earlier, recommended evacuation of the area was announced, but this mandatory evacaution comes after the National Weather Service predicted the Red River crest to reach between 41 and 43 feet this weekend.
North Dakota's largest city moved to the brink of potentially disastrous flooding Thursday, as officials predicted the Red River would reach a record-high crest of 41 to 43 feet by the weekend.
Thousands of volunteers who have been piling sandbags for days scrambled to add another foot to Fargo's dike protection, and some residents in the area had to be rescued.
Coast Guard and other crews rescued more than 100 people from rooftops today. Crews are out searching for people stranded by the rising water.
Coast Guard crews have arrived in the Fargo-Moorhead area from all over the country to help with flood efforts.
Lt. John Ott from the Coast Guard says they have a number of special boats, capable of going into extremely shallow water. But in areas where flooding is severe, they are using rescue helicopters to reach stranded people.
"Right now they are employed picking people up off the roofs of their homes," said Ott. "The neigborhood was completely bermed up so we were unable to get boats in. So the [helicopters] were a better option to lift people right out."
The Coast Guard is asking anyone needing rescue to wave something red or yellow to help rescue helicopters and boats locate them.
Fargo began distributing evacuation information to residents Thursday afternoon, but at least four nursing homes began moving residents without waiting.
"A few of them said they didn't want to go. I said, I'm going where the crowd goes," said 98-year-old Margaret "Dolly" Beaucage, who clasped rosary beads as she waited to leave Elim Care Center.
"I'm a swimmer," she said, smiling, "but not that good a swimmer."
Fargo officials said that if there is a levy breach and an evacuation is necessary, residents will be notified via sirens, an automated phone recorded message system and emergency broadcasts.
Fargo Police Chief Keith Ternes stressed that no evacuation orders are being issued, but he said people who think they would need help leaving in an emergency situation should consider moving to higher ground now.
"If you're in a position where if you had to evacuate you could not do so on your own, if you feel that you are going to be in a position where we would have come and get you and bring you out of an area, those individuals may want to consider leaving now," said Ternes.
Ternes says there may not be enough resources available to move everyone who needs help in a worst case emergency situation.
Leon Schlafmann, Fargo's emergency management director, said he was confident there will be enough volunteers to pile up enough sandbags.
Schlafmann also said he is confident the dikes will hold even through several days of high water.
"We might lose a neighborhood or a few homes, but we won't lose the whole city," he said.
Across the river in Moorhead, Minn., officials are recommending voluntary evacuations south of Interstate 94 and west of 8th St. South. A shelter has been set up at Moorhead High School.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)
- All Things Considered, 03/26/2009, 3:50 p.m.
Dan Gunderson is based in Moorhead, Minn.