AUSTIN EDITION -- Roseau keeps piling sandbags

Floodwaters creep close to city's largest employer

By Gregg Aamot

Associated Press

ROSEAU, Minn. -- Crews piled more sandbags and dirt today to hold record floodwaters back from Polaris Industries, the largest employer in this far northwestern Minnesota city.

A dike of sandbags and dirt stretched at least 150 yards along Minnesota Highway 89, which sits between Polaris and the rain-swollen Roseau River, which had seeped within about 10 feet of the plant.


While the dike held back the river, pumps tried to clear water that had pooled between the dike and the factory. National Guard, commercial and highway department dump trucks hauled in more gravel from a pit a few miles outside of town.

A few convenience stores and motels continued to operate on the west end of town on a cool overcast morning, but water crept precariously close to their doors. Police were still helping stranded families leave their homes this morning. City officials hadn't determined how many people had left.

The Roseau River was expected to crest today in this community of 2,500 people about 10 miles south of the Canadian border.

The National Weather Service said about a third of an inch of rain fell early today on top of the 5 to 12 inches the area has received since the weekend. More showers were forecast for this afternoon and Thursday.

Some parts of town were covered by 4 to 5 feet of water by today.

Among those refusing to leave their homes today was Brian Muirhead, who said he was winning his fight after staying up for two days shoveling and sandbagging.

"Last year, my house burned down, and I lost everything," Muirhead told WCCO Radio. "So I got this new house, and I put it in Roseau here. And (I'm) very happy with the house and everything else. But I have a lot of money invested in this house, and I said I'm not going down without a fight."

Muirhead sent his wife and children to stay with relatives in a nearby town, but said he refused their pleas that he join them. "I won't leave without a fight, I said."


Roseau set its previous flood record of 21.1 feet twice in 1996 -- in April and again in May. The river was just over 23 feet this morning and the National Weather Service projected a crest of 24 feet sometime later in the day.

Flood stage is 16 feet and the city's levee system was designed to hold back the river only to a depth of about 22 feet. On Tuesday afternoon, a sandbag dike along the east side of the river broke, spilling water into yards and streets.

The water was knee-deep in many streets and nearly every yard east of the river had some water.

Workers were focused on protecting the Polaris plant, a hospital and the high school. The Polaris plant makes snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles and employs 1,800 people in the Roseau area.

"This is the economic engine for Roseau County," said Tom Tiller, chief executive and president of Polaris. "Even though a lot of people have lost their homes, the idea is at least they'll have a job."

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