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Grand Forks ready to help Fargo fight flood

GRAND FORKS -- The first streams of Red River floodwater that would eventually besiege the city and damage 83 percent of its homes topped the dikes here 16 years ago Thursday.

This year, Fargo residents have filled more than 1 million sandbags in hopes of preventing a similar disaster in their city as the flood forecast points to a record event. Should they need help from Grand Forks, city officials here say they will be there to answer the call.

"Usually we wait until they tell us they need help," said Sharyl Simeone, a public information officer for Grand Forks. Simeone said the cities are in touch, but so far, Fargo hasn't requested assistance.

Sending help

The latest flood forecast released Wednesday by the National Weather Service advised Fargo residents to prepare for crests in the range of 38 to 42 feet, with a 40 percent chance of seeing a record flood.

The news prompted Cass County officials to add another 200,000 sandbags, which would bring the county's total reserve, including Fargo, to 1.8 million.

In past years, one of Grand Forks' sandbagging machines has been sent down to Fargo to help with flood fighting efforts, according to Public Works Director Todd Feland.

Called the "spider machine," the contraption has 12 sandbag filling points and takes a six- or eight-person crew to keep running while volunteers fill bags.

"It needs a lot of people to keep things going," Feland said. Grand Forks hasn't used the spider since 1997, but the city has sent it to Fargo and Mandan for flood fighting efforts.

The city also owns two machines capable of filling four bags at a time, but they are usually used for Public Works projects instead of flood fighting, he said.

Homefront fight

Grand Forks' flood forecast reports a 50 percent chance of the Red River reaching 49.6 feet this spring. The city's major flood stage is 46 feet. The levees would keep out 60 feet of water, and the floodwalls grant another 3 feet of protection, though sandbags would be needed to raise the levees to the same level.

Feland said he doesn't think the city will need to make sandbags, but other locations in Grand Forks County might not be so lucky.

"We're anticipating some residents in the county may need sandbags, but not any within the city limits because of the flood protection system," said County Emergency Manager Jim Campbell.