Fargo officials to raise dikes as river rises

FARGO (AP) -- As the Red River rises into "uncharted territory," officials Thursday pleaded for thousands of volunteer sandbaggers, readied their evacuation plans, and vowed to build the dikes a foot higher than planned in an effort to hold back ...

FARGO (AP) -- As the Red River rises into "uncharted territory," officials Thursday pleaded for thousands of volunteer sandbaggers, readied their evacuation plans, and vowed to build the dikes a foot higher than planned in an effort to hold back the water.

To the west, officials in Bismarck said the Missouri River had lowered 2 feet, easing the flood threat to that city.

In Fargo, the National Weather Service predicted the Red River would crest at 41 feet -- the high end of previous estimates -- raising new concern among residents in this city of about 92,000.

Mayor Dennis Walaker described 41 feet as "uncharted territory," noting the Red's record high at Fargo was 40.1 feet in 1897. Walaker said he was still confident the city would beat the flood, but that contingency plans were needed.

"We're into the contingency dikes now, and what they are is a secondary dike to protect the city in case the first line of defense fails," Walaker told the CBS "Early Show" Thursday morning. City officials opened a planning meeting with a prayer, and Walaker said: "We need all the help we can get."


Officials said they would build their dikes a foot higher than planned, to 43 feet. The city also said it would distribute evacuation information to residents on Thursday -- just in case. The river was projected to crest Saturday afternoon.

Police Chief Keith Ternes urged people with disabilities to consider leaving the city, saying: "If they expect us to get to them and get them out, they should give serious consideration." Hospital officials were also identifying patients that might need to be moved early.

Officials in Fargo and neighboring Moorhead, Minn., put out another call for volunteers. Fargo requested more than 2,000 volunteers to complete sandbag dikes.

In Bismarck, officials canceled a request for sandbaggers to protect a mobile home court in the south part of the city. But residents were warned not to let their guards down despite the lowering river.

"I am praying we're out of the woods because of the 2-foot drop, but I think we have to be prudent," said Lt. Dan Murphy, a North Dakota National Guard spokesman. "We just don't know."

The guard said tributaries feeding into the river had gone down.

Also, demolition crews blasted chunks of ice Wednesday to break up an ice jam that was causing water to back up behind it.

Water backing up behind the dam of car-size ice blocks had forced the evacuation of about 1,700 people from low-lying areas in North Dakota's capital city of about 59,000. Fox Island, which has several dozen upscale homes, was flooded.


Crews from Advanced Explosives Demolition, with help from National Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard, drilled 80 holes in the ice to detonate clay-like explosives. Greg Wilz, the state's homeland security director, said salt would be used to help speed the breakup and officials were considering backhoes to break up ice sheets near the river's west bank.

A second ice jam about 10 miles upstream of Bismarck was also a concern, holding back a growing reservoir.

The National Weather Service posted a flash flood warning for a three-county area, saying the integrity of that ice jam, in an area called Double Ditch, was unpredictable.

Residents of low-lying subdivisions in Bismarck and neighboring Mandan had been told to evacuate.

President Barack Obama declared the entire state of North Dakota a disaster area late Tuesday in response to widespread flooding. The Minot Air Force Base was deploying two rescue helicopters to Bismarck, in case people need to be saved from floodwaters.

Mike Hall, who is in charge of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's North Dakota response to the flood, said the agency is shipping almost 20,000 meals, 4,500 blankets and hundreds of toiletry kits to the Grand Forks Air Force Base. From there, the supplies will be distributed as needed, Hall said.

More sandbagging was planned in part of Grand Forks, the city hardest hit by the 1997 Red River flood. An elaborate dike system was built after that disaster. The Red rose to 42.5 feet in Grand Forks by midday Wednesday with a crest near 52 feet projected for Monday. The record there was 54.4 feet, set in 1997.

Snow fell Wednesday in the Red River Valley region -- and continued to fall into the night. Several inches were already on the ground, and the National Weather Service said 2 to 4 more inches are expected in Bismarck on Thursday, while up to 1 inch is expected in Fargo.

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