- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 12, 2009

HORACE, N.D. (AP) - Residents of the Fargo area already have survived one threatening flood crest this spring on the Red River and are hunkered down for another. For others in the region, it’s been more like slow torture as they wait for high water to peak on one of the Red’s little brothers.

“We’ve been waiting, watching, waiting. It’s taking its toll, no doubt about it,” Gene Wicklund said of the rising Sheyenne River, which flows near Wicklund’s house south of Horace and feeds into the larger Red.

Wicklund and his neighbors are “watching the Sheyenne move a section at a time, knowing that it’s going to get to them,” said Cass County Engineer Keith Berndt.

The Red River crested at Fargo and neighboring Moorhead, Minn., late last month just short of 41 feet, after an intense sandbagging effort that raised levees and helped the two cities largely escape major damage. The river’s second crest is projected to reach 38 feet to 40 feet by next weekend.

The Sheyenne is the Red River’s scenic tributary. It begins in the center of North Dakota and meanders east and south before taking a final loop north into the Red, which follows a northerly course along the Minnesota-North Dakota line.

“It moves pretty slow,” said Kent Ness, who also lives south of Horace. “But it’s going at a pretty good clip right now.”

County officials have called in the Coast Guard to help prepare for potential emergency evacuations, possibly using air boats or helicopters, Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney said.

“That pretty much says what we believe,” Laney said.

On Saturday, officials started evacuating the North Dakota Veterans Home near the Sheyenne River in the town of Lisbon.

Administrator Mark Johnson said it might be a first for the 117-year-old Veterans Home. It’s protected by sandbags and a dike, but a bridge to the home is at a low spot along the Sheyenne and could be blocked by high water.

“What we’ve been told is that the Sheyenne is going to be the worst we’ve ever seen it,” Laney said. “We can’t take that lightly. When it comes to overland flooding, it cuts off a lot of things.”

Flooding is a worry along rivers and creeks throughout North Dakota, with sandbagging construction or patrols during the weekend from Burlington in the northwest to Lisbon in the southeast. The National Weather Service issued a flood warning Sunday for counties in western and central North Dakota and said major flooding was expected in places along the Souris River, which loops through Minot in north-central Dakota.

On Saturday, soldiers hauled floodwalls and sandbags from Fargo to Minot. About 900 National Guard soldiers were on duty and more are on alert in case they’re needed.

The weather service also said the Sheyenne is expected to rise to 22 feet in Valley City, about 60 miles from Fargo, by Tuesday, or 2 feet higher than the record 20 feet set in 1882. All but one of Valley City’s 11 bridges will be closed if that happens, officials say.

They worry that rising water will spread quickly over the flat valley, flooding roads and homes.

Most residents of Horace, about 10 miles outside Fargo, and suburban West Fargo are protected from the Sheyenne by a diversion canal that routes water outside the city during floods.

“God bless the diversion,” said West Fargo resident Jeff Simmons, who spent several days clearing ice jams at bridges over the Sheyenne.

The rest of the county has to deal with flooding from the Sheyenne as well as the Wild Rice and Maple rivers, Laney said.

“I think people realize it’s here, and we’ve got to get things going,” Laney said of the approaching crest. “We take the threat very seriously because we have no choice.”

Wicklund and Ness have both recruited volunteers to help them build sandbag dikes. Jeff Sherva, who was filling bags for Wicklund, said he had his boat ready.

“We’ve been doing this for almost three weeks: Watching everything else,” he said. “Not too much was said about the Sheyenne at first, but we knew we were going to be in trouble.”

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