- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 28, 2009

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota officials intensified their efforts Saturday to fend off the floodwater of the Red River, deploying high-tech Predator drone aircraft, calling up more National Guard troops and asking residents to be on the lookout for any breaches in levees.

The National Weather Service predicted the Red River would crest at near 42 feet sometime Sunday, but said it was still possible the river could rise to 43 feet. That’s as high as the levees go and is nearly 3 feet above than the record of 40.1 feet set in 1897.

The crest was originally expected Saturday, but pushed back to Sunday. The Red River was at 40.82 feet Saturday morning, and for the next week it could be bouncing within a couple of inches of 41 feet, meaning the agonizing will continue for several days in the Fargo area.

No major levee breaches or other issues were reported during the night.

Officials said they were increasing the number of guard troops from 1,700 to 1,850 and bringing in 300 large bags that hold a ton of sand and could be dropped by helicopter into breaks in the levees.

Predator drones from the Grand Forks Air Force Base began flying overhead Saturday morning, providing officials bird’s-eye views of the situation and allowing them to react quickly if flooding worsens.

“They will be up there for 10 hours today providing video of the flood situation,” North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven said in an interview with The Associated Press.

President Barack Obama assured the nation Saturday he was keeping close watch on the Midwest floods and putting the government’s full weight behind efforts to prevent disaster.

“Even as we face an economic crisis which demands our constant focus, forces of nature can also intervene in ways that create other crises to which we must respond _ and respond urgently,” the president said in his weekly radio and Internet address.

“I will continue to monitor the situation carefully,” he pledged. “We will do what must be done to help.”

While the situation in Fargo was getting the most attention, officials across the river in Moorhead, Minn., were also dealing with the threat of heavy flooding. Thousands of people had evacuated the city of 30,000, although others have stayed behind.

“Right now we’re confident, but if the dikes break we’ll have people standing on their roofs,” said Clay County, Minn., Sheriff Bill Bergquist.

Temperatures were in the single digits during the night, preventing snow from melting and feeding the rising river. The Red rose less than a foot Friday, compared to 2.5 feet on Thursday.

Officials of the city of 92,000 people said Saturday they didn’t immediately need any more volunteers.

“Now it’s time to stand and defend,” said Tim Mahoney, a Fargo city commissioner.

Volunteers had piled sandbags on top of miles of snow-covered dikes, with the frigid weather freezing the bags solid as they worked.

Hundreds more Guard troops poured in from around the state and neighboring South Dakota, along with scores of American Red Cross workers from as far away as Modesto, Calif. Homeowners, students and small armies of other volunteers filled sandbags. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said Saturday his state’s National Guard was sending two C-130 aircraft with at least 34 troops to help.

“It’s to the point now where I think we’ve done everything we can,” said Fargo resident Dave Davis, whose neighborhood was filled with backhoes and tractors building an earthen levee. “The only thing now is divine intervention.”

Federal officials we prepared to shelter and feed 30,000 people for a week, said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. More people than that may be evacuated, but she said officials expect most people would seek help through friends and family first. She said the Coast Guard had participated in 82 rescues by Friday.

In a flooded small community north of Fargo and across the river, fire destroyed a house surrounded by so much water that firefighters couldn’t get within 200 feet. More than 100 residents of Oakport Township, Minn., had to be rescued by boat.

Fargo escaped devastation from flooding in 1997, when Grand Forks was ravaged by a historic flood 70 miles to the north. This year, the river has been swollen by heavier-than-average winter snow, combined with an early freeze last fall that locked a lot of moisture into the soil. The threat has been made worse by spring rain.

“I think the river is mad that she lost the last time,” said engineer Mike Buerkley, managing a smile through his dark stubble as he tossed sandbags onto his pickup truck after working 29 straight hours.

National Guard member Shawna Cale, 25, worked through the night on a dike, handing up sandbags that were 30 to 40 pounds and frozen solid.

“It’s like throwing a frozen turkey,” said sister-in-law Tawny Cale, who came with her husband to help with the sandbags and then to help Shawna move her valuables as she evacuated.


On the Net:

Weather Service river level: https://sn.im/enwgc

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide