- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 14, 2009

VALLEY CITY, N.D. (AP) - Earthmoving equipment and National Guard helicopters hauled sand Monday to reinforce leaky dikes that led to evacuations of two parts of town threatened by the Sheyenne River, the latest North Dakota stream to rise above its banks.

Roads were flooded throughout the state, making travel difficult. Late Monday night, state officials closed a 100-mile stretch of Interstate 94 between Bismarck and Jamestown, saying the high water on the road made travel hazardous.

Twice in 12 hours Valley City police had gone knocking on doors, urging people to get out.

“It was just kind of disbelief, actually,” said chiropractor Jeff Brown, who lives near one dike that had to be repaired Sunday night. He said he was in his backyard Sunday afternoon when “my daughter stuck her head out the window and said `Dad, we have to evacuate.’”

Police came around with bullhorns to warn residents “like a scene out of a movie,” he said.

Brown and his family packed up their belongings and headed to his parents’ home on higher ground.

They were allowed to return Monday after repairs to the nearby dike, but early Monday a weak spot developed in a dike near Valley City State University and residents of another part of town were told to leave while crews reinforced the dike.

On Monday afternoon, authorities were working to shore up another leak near an electrical substation.

“Valley City is in a marathon,” said U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy, who was in the city with Gov. John Hoeven. The governor said the number of National Guard members in the city would be doubled to help with monitoring.

Mayor Mary Lee Nielson did not know how many people evacuated in the town of 6,875 people. She said officials advised the evacuation because “we always err on the side of caution and get people out of harm’s way when we can.”

The Sheyenne rose Monday above the 20-foot record set in April 1882. At 5 p.m., it was at 20.44 feet in Valley City, headed for a crest at around 22 feet in the next couple of days, the National Weather Service said. At that height, the city could have to close all but one of its 11 scenic bridges, officials said.

On Monday, only two bridges were open.

It’s the latest threat from rivers swollen by melting snow that already have washed out roads, damaged homes and turned farmsteads into islands around North Dakota. The weather service issued a flood warning Sunday for large parts of western and central North Dakota.

The Sheyenne River empties into the Red River, which is expected to reach a second flood crest of its own near Fargo this week.

The Red River crested at Fargo and neighboring Moorhead, Minn., late last month just short of 41 feet, after volunteers filled thousands of sandbags to raise levees above that mark. The Red’s River’s second crest at Fargo is projected to reach around 38 feet or 39 feet, slightly lower than earlier forecasts.

“It doesn’t look quite as bad as we thought, as far what’s coming towards us,” Fargo City Commissioner Tim Mahoney said Monday. “But rain could change that.”

In the meantime, Fargo is sending some of its sandbags to Valley City, about 60 miles away, and to the Sheyenne River town of Lisbon, Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said.

“I think Valley City’s got the true test,” Walaker said Monday.

In Canada, an ice jam sent floodwaters spilling over the banks of the Red in Manitoba over the weekend.

About 100 homes in St. Clements, about 12 miles south of where the river empties into Lake Winnipeg, were evacuated. Sixty people had to be rescued, including a handful who climbed onto a rooftop to stay dry.

The ice jam moved downstream Monday and water levels were dropping, but officials were bracing for more trouble along the north-flowing Red River in the days to come.

Flooding has washed out roads across North Dakota, and counties are advising people not to travel on many smaller, secondary routes. State transportation officials said the speed limit was reduced to 25 mph on Interstate 94 near Steele, in central North Dakota, because of flooding.

In Walsh County, in northeastern North Dakota, authorities said a man was missing after his pickup was swept away by floodwaters.

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

Brown said he saw about 24 dump trucks and two payloaders being used on the levee repair work, along with National Guard helicopters dropping sand. The National Guard said about 20 one-ton sandbags were dropped to reinforce the dikes.

“That was pretty surreal. It’s like you’re in a different country,” Brown said.

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