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Groups fight water with sand

Groups fight water with sand
Volunteers build a wall Saturday morning in Red Wing to protect the city's YMCA against anticipated flooding from the rising Mississippi River. About 100 people, including many high school athletes, showed up to help.

While the waterways in the Austin area have dropped below flood stage and are receding, floodwaters remain a threat in communities along the Mississippi River.

Saturday morning in Red Wing, about 100 volunteers, many in heavy jackets that quickly became caked with sand or mud, moved sandbags and built a plywood barrier filled with sand to protect the lower part of the Red Wing YMCA.

No one knows how high the Mississippi will rise, but plenty are watching.


This morning, the Mississippi rose slightly above flood stage in Wabasha, the National Weather Service in La Crosse, Wis., said. The river will peak between April 5 and April 7 in Lake City and Wabasha, and around April 10 in the Winona area, NWS said. The crests are expected to be about a food above flood stage, with minor flooding. The river may rise to a second crest in late April, as snow in central Minnesota and northern Wisconsin melts, the service said.


So the volunteers came. About half were Red Wing High School athletes, there because the athletics director put out a call for helpers.

Brenna Pasch, a sophomore soccer player, said she came just to "help out the community and help prepare for flooding." She's never seen a major flood, and would prefer to keep it that way.

"It doesn't exactly help anybody," she said.

Alura Patrin, a junior, said she works for the YMCA "and I like to stay at work, so I don't want this to flood. It's a community place."

Yes, it was cold and dirty, she said, but "it's nice to be with friends, it makes it a lot better."

YMCA Director Mike Melstad said the lower part of the building is low enough that 1965 floodwaters reached it. He isn't sure if the 2011 flood will get that high, but he's not taking chances. Without sandbags and the sand-filled plywood wall, water would get into electrical systems and the pool.

"People didn't build a beautiful YMCA to close it," he said.

Lake City, Wabasha


Farther downriver, Lake City was quiet on Saturday, but volunteers and city workers have filled thousands of sandbags, and the city is ready to do more, said John Yorde, the city's emergency management director.

A few homes along Lake Pepin, a natural river reservoir, were already sandbagged and more might be soon.

The marina is poised to pull several dozen mobile homes off Lake City Point if the water threatens to swamp the point, Yorde said. Large boats, most of them sailboats, parked in the marina parking lot would have to be moved, he said.

Mark Lutjen, harbormaster, said it would take two or three days to move all the sailboats.

The first place to have problems would be Central Point on the upper side of Lake City. The homes there are quite low, but most have been built up on concrete, with little below them that can be hurt. Owners can open doors, let the water flow through and not worry. If Pepin rises high enough, though, gas and electricity will have to be shut off.

The biggest fear is that not all the lake's ice will be gone when the highest water hits. Wind-driven ice floes can smash walls, sandbags and dikes.

"We're on top of it as much as we can be," Yorde said. "All we can do is wait."

In Wabasha, the lower part of Slippery's Bar & Grill is sandbagged. The river is high but not yet a threat.


The real worry is a second crest, which could bring much higher water depending on how fast snow melts up north and whether there's more rain.

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