m2016 BC-MidwestFlooding-DikeP 1stLd-Writethru 03-27 0637
Top job in Fargo: Dike patrol
Eds: INSERTS 11th graf to note city’s supply of sandbags for quick patches.
By JIM SUHR
Associated Press Writer
FARGO, N.D. (AP) — With neighbor helping neighbor, Scott Wohlman muscled sandbags hauled in by pickup trucks to stem the Red River waters trying to sneak through the dike protecting his north Fargo subdivision.
Wohlman, a 40-year-old painter, figures they caught the leak in plenty of time. But the scare points up a major concern for people in the Red River flood zone: the threat will linger for days past the river’s predicted Saturday afternoon crest as its icy floodwaters test dikes and levees.
City officials say they’re confident that any problems will be quickly spotted and fixed. They’re relying heavily on round-the-clock patrols by some 1,700 National Guard members. Smaller, city-run patrols did the job earlier, and it was one of those crews that detected seepage through a clay levee early Friday.
This week’s flood fight has been waged in bone-numbing cold that has led to questions about how effectively the sandbag dikes will do their job. City leaders say they believe the dikes will hold, and argued that the cold will actually strengthen them.
Workers cranked out some 500,000 sandbags a day — five times the output during the 1997 flood. Steps were taken to keep the bags warm and pliable when they were stacked, to make a tight seal. The avoided using frozen sandbags, they said.
"That’d be like trying to stack frozen turkeys," laughed Mike Williams, city commissioner.
Once the warm bags were in place, freezing weather would function to make the dikes stronger, City Administrator Pat Zavoral said.
"It actually kind of firms them up," he said. "If you lay loose bags and now they’re frozen, they’re like a frozen ice cube. It’s good shape."
Zavoral acknowledged that "a couple of dikes" built by residents and volunteers, working through the night without city oversight, might have quality control problems.
"We think they’re whole, and we’re having people inspect them," he said. "So now the issue is let’s make sure we shore those up if we have to."
The city has 300,000 sandbags stored in a warm place to rush anyplace they are needed.
Penny Ripperger, a Guard spokeswoman, said the patrols will mainly be on foot. In many areas, there isn’t enough room to use equipment like ATVs to get around.
The North Dakota Guard’s commander welcomed the city’s request to take over the monitoring.
"When you think about it, this is a good mission to assign to the Guard," Maj. Gen. Dave Sprynczynatyk said. "What’s been done to this point has been great — different groups have been taking care of different areas, and it’s been well-organized. But we’re in a better position to provide greater, better organization up and down the system."
Sprynczynatyk added: "I know for a fact that everyone involving in building the dikes is doing everything they can to make sure that dike is gonna hold back the water."
On Friday, Wohlman said he believe the dike in his neighborhood would hold up with a couple of feet to spare. Still, his wife and 12-year-old daughter weren’t taking any chances in the house where they moved just after the 1997 floods, which spared their place. Back then, he recalls, "the city said we’d be fine."
"They’ve got all the furniture out of the basement, just in case," he said, smiling.