The Associated Press
FARGO, N.D. — A storm system moving into North Dakota on Sunday increased the flood threat in the Red River Valley, and officials in Fargo and neighboring Moorhead, Minn., issued urgent pleas for volunteers to help with sandbagging. They lined up football players, jail inmates and others to work.
The Minnesota National Guard said Sunday that more than 200 soldiers would be heading to the Red River Valley to help with the flood fight. The North Dakota National Guard said about 250 of its members were ready.
The Red 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. Flood stage is 18 feet.
Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker took deep breaths as he asked for help from residents and others.
“What we want to do is avoid any kind of chaos,” Walaker said Sunday, as rain began falling outside City Hall. “This is a system where everybody works very hard to provide organization to this process. But as they keep changing the rules, it becomes more and more tense.”
Across the river, Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland said he did not think the two cities were ready for a flood that could top the record crest of 39.6 feet in 1997. He said residents were too complacent.
“People just didn’t think it was really going to happen,” Voxland said. “Today, it really sunk in.”
The scary thing, Walaker said, is the weather.
“It’s not good news by an stretch of the imagination,” he said
City officials originally planned to fill more than 1 million sandbags, which Walaker called doable. Officials now believe they need nearly 1.9 million bags to protect neighborhoods that would be affected by the new projections.
The city has set up Sandbag Central, where machines fill sandbags round the clock.
About 400,000 to 500,000 bags must be filled each day to reach the goal by the end of the week, officials said.
“We need this help,” Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney said. “We need to stay calm, we need to stay cool, but we need to get serious and get this done.”
Laney said 25 inmates from the Cass County jail would be filling sandbags overnight. Fargo Public High School students are being released if they want to help, and 80 members of the North Dakota State football team have signed up to fill bags.
Fargo officials said the new numbers could almost double the number of Fargo neighborhoods at risk. The city planned to issue “Code Red” calls to residents to help with diking in nearby areas.
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 police would escort trucks with sandbags into neighborhoods. Residents were urged to take alternate routes to work to avoid congested areas.
The most vulnerable neighborhoods in Fargo are on the south side, with about 700 homes needing initial sandbag protection, Walaker said. Sandbags were being placed in people’s garages out of fears they may freeze.
“You can’t place frozen sandbags. They’re just like rocks and they leak like sieves,” Walaker said.
A dike protecting downtown Fargo was being raised to about 43 feet. Cass County officials were finishing an emergency levee south of the city.
Earth work in the city and county was 80 percent complete, officials said.
The flood 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.
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 it issued more than 600,000 sandbags to counties and cities in North Dakota and Minnesota.
The Associated Press