- The Washington Times - Monday, March 23, 2009

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A storm system moving into North Dakota on Sunday increased the flood threat in the Red River Valley, and officials in Fargo and Moorhead, Minn., issued urgent pleas for volunteers to help with sandbagging.

The river is expected to rise to a crest between 39 feet and 41 feet in the Fargo-Moorhead area by Friday, a day earlier and a foot higher than earlier projected.

“I don’t think our communities are prepared for that,” Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland said at a news conference Sunday.

“We absolutely need to see volunteers,” said Michael Redlinger, the Moorhead city manager.

The highest recorded flood in Fargo was 39.6 feet, in 1997.

The National Weather Service said the Red was over its banks Sunday in Fargo, at a level of about 21 feet, or about 3 feet above flood stage, with more water on the way.

Authorities warned gawkers to stay away from affected neighborhoods, or be prepared to be put to work. Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist said he was frustrated by the number of slow-moving vehicles in busy areas.

“You know what, next time I’m going to pull you over and you’re going to be out there sandbagging,” Bergquist said.

Fargo officials said they were racing to find volunteers to fill nearly 1 million sandbags and protect neighborhoods. City Administrator Pat Zavoral said the new numbers could almost double the number of Fargo neighborhoods at risk, and he said it would require more volunteers to fill and lay sandbags.

“This brings a whole new meaning to setting your hair on fire,” Zavoral told Fargo’s KFGO radio.

The projection was raised because of the rain expected in the area, said meteorologist Dave Kellenbenz, of the weather service in Grand Forks.

“It looks like an inch, and inch and a half, and then we’re going to get a break tomorrow morning, and then more tomorrow night and Tuesday,” Kellenbenz said Sunday.

The weather service also warned of flooding in western and central North Dakota, northwestern Minnesota and eastern South Dakota, where the rain was expected to change to snow Monday or Tuesday. The area from Bismarck and Minot west was under a blizzard watch.

“We’ve got it all, if you like weather,” Kellenbenz said.

The weather service said northwestern South Dakota could get up to 2 feet of snow and southwestern North Dakota could get up to 18 inches by midweek. The Bismarck and Minot areas could get up to a foot of snow, with up to 6 inches in the Devils Lake area.

“We’re expecting a changeover to snow Monday morning,” meteorologist Joshua Scheck said in Bismarck. The heaviest amounts are expected to follow a southwest to northeast pattern, moving slightly north of Fargo, he said.

Zavoral said Sunday the city had 310,000 sandbags filled, out of about 1.5 million needed. The city has set up Sandbag Central, where machines fill sandbags round the clock.

City officials said they were especially short volunteers in the evening and overnight hours. They said at least 150 volunteers are needed for the sandbag-filling machines to run continuously.

In Grand Forks, forecasters predicted the Red would rise above its 28-foot flood stage to about 50.4 feet by next Sunday and could possible reach 52.5 feet over the next week. Grand Forks officials have said they are confident the dike system built after the 1997 flood disaster will protect the city.

The Army Corps of Engineers said its contractors have been building emergency levees in the cities of Fargo, Grafton, Harwood, Valley City and Wahpeton in North Dakota, and in the cities of Breckenridge, Moorhead and Georgetown in Minnesota.

The corps said it was raising roads and completing lift protection stations to protect four cities in North Dakota’s Richland County, and that it issued more than 600,000 sandbags to counties and cities in North Dakota and Minnesota.

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