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Fargo-area officials outline plans for sandbagging

FARGO, N.D. — Spring clean-up week has been replaced by spring flood-fighting week in Fargo.

City officials on Friday mapped out their time-tested and improved strategy to protect hundreds of homeowners from a spring flood that will be the latest — and perhaps the largest — in history, at a time when residents are usually preparing to haul junk to their boulevards.

Now some of them might be moving important stuff to higher ground in preparation for the fourth major flood in five years along the Red River and its tributaries.

"To say that this gets easier ... for some of us it's getting old," Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said Friday during a flood preparation meeting that fell on the same date as the latest Red River crest on record, in 1979. "We have never had a significant flood in the month of May."

The National Weather Service has given the Red River a 40 percent chance of topping the 2009 record flood of nearly 41 feet in the Fargo and Moorhead, Minn., area. Most structures are protected to about 38 feet, with a few hundred homes needing added fortification beyond that. City and county officials plan to build their sandbag dikes to 42 or 43 feet and clay levees to 44 feet.


Police will begin escorting flatbed trucks with sandbags into Fargo neighborhoods on Tuesday. Area high school students and other volunteers will begin placing bags on Thursday, with most of the work expected to be completed by the weekend. About 700,000 sandbags were placed in less than two days in 2011, which was the third straight major flood.

North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple attended Friday's flood meeting and then chipped in to help high school students fill and stack 20-pound sandbags at a Fargo garbage truck storage facility that has been dubbed Sandbag Central. The city plans to have 2 million bags ready to go, about half of which will be put in place right away.

"I don't know if I could make the whole five-hour shift here," Dalrymple told The Associated Press. "These students are great. They just step right in and know what to do right away. It's actually fun to watch."

Dalrymple said the North Dakota National Guard will have 4,000 personnel available for deployment and already have tuned up its aircraft and equipment. The governor promised to have funding at a moment's notice, especially since the Legislature is still in session.

"I think we'll be OK because the preparation is excellent and mayor Walaker is really staying on the safe side of the situation, which is the right thing to do," Dalrymple said.

Walaker said he's optimistic about keeping the city dry after watching people shift into flood mode in a 24-hour period.

"Better than I was yesterday," Walaker said when asked about his comfort level. "What I mean is, everybody's in tune. If there's anything that's really good about having four floods in five years, is you don't have to retrain anybody. Everybody remembers."

Cass County officials are feeling less secure, mainly because the Sheyenne River, which empties into the Red north of Fargo, could also reach record levels. County Commissioner Ken Pawluk compared the situation to floods of 1997 and 2011, when some rural residents needed boats to leave their homes.


"In the next week things are going to happen real fast as the rivers break up," Pawluk said. "We're preparing for a big flood."

The county plans to start sandbagging on Monday and building clay levees on Tuesday.

Fargo officials plan to unveil further details, such as emergency evacuation plans and other worst-case scenarios, at flood meetings scheduled next week. Officials in Moorhead, which is on higher ground than Fargo and has fewer homes to protect, are holding neighborhood meetings Monday to outline flood-fighting efforts.

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