- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2009

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - Flood waters have fallen below most of the sandbag levees protecting Fargo, feeding optimism that the city had tamed the Red River, at least for now.

By early Wednesday, the river had fallen to 37.37 feet _ still far above flood stage but below the top of the city’s permanent floodwalls, which are topped with another 5 feet of sandbags.

“This should give us a sigh of relief,” Mayor Dennis Walaker said.

City officials said businesses would be allowed to reopen Wednesday morning.

While the lower water levels took pressure off the floodwalls, engineers and National Guard troops braved a blinding snowstorm Tuesday to monitor the dikes for signs of stress.

Officials insist the city isn’t safe just yet. Forecasters say the river could begin rising again in coming days, when more snow begins to melt. But even future crests aren’t expected to approach the levels feared over the weekend.

Frigid temperatures are limiting the amount of snow and ice that would normally melt and flow into the waterway, the National Weather Service said.

But the storm added to the challenge of monitoring the dikes by dumping about 10 inches of snow in Fargo, producing a messy mix of mud and ice. Engineers in hard hats, life vests and steel-toe boots walked along earthen dikes, struggling to see through the blowing snow as they conducted inspections.

In neighboring Moorhead, Minn., National Guard members went door-to-door in flood-prone areas to make sure sandbags were not leaking.

Trucks with snow plows rolled through Fargo despite having hardly any visibility. Snow blowers rumbled through the day. And cars slid all over the icy roads, including one driven by a teenager who slammed into a sheriff’s department vehicle and nearly plummeted into the river.

Homeowners kept a constant vigil over pumps to make sure ice did not clog discharge hoses.

“I lived in North Dakota all my life. After a while, you just get tired of it,” said Ryan Such, 26, who was operating a pickup truck equipped with a plow Tuesday.

The mayor’s message to the city was simple: “The word of the day is hunker, hunker down. That means stay snug in your areas and please do not travel.”

Light snow was again possible Wednesday, but accumulations would be below a couple inches, the National Weather Service said.

Authorities also warned people to stay away from the dangerous river. Late Monday, a man was arrested for driving a snowmobile on a dike, and one brave soul was caught paddling a canoe up the river.

Earlier in the week, a woman was accused of drunken driving after she attempted to drive over a levee in her van and got stuck.

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Associated Press writers Amy Forliti and Elizabeth Dunbar in Minneapolis, and Dan Sewell and Matthew Brown in Fargo contributed to this report.

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On the Net:

Red River at Fargo water levels: https://sn.im/enwgc

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