Thousands Leave Fargo as Floodwaters Rise to New Record in North Dakota

Residents in Fargo, N.D., have been scrambling in subfreezing temperatures to pile sandbags along the Red River. They spent much of Thursday preparing for a record crest of 41 feet, only to have forecasters add 2 feet to the estimate. Video by AP
Associated Press
Saturday, March 28, 2009

FARGO, N.D., Mar. 27 -- As thousands of residents left North Dakota's largest city Friday, others stayed and prayed that miles of sandbagged levees would hold against the surging Red River.

The ice-laden river is expected to crest Sunday at 42 feet -- two feet higher than the record set 112 years ago.

"It's to the point now where I think we've done everything we can," said resident Dave Davis, whose neighborhood was filled with backhoes and tractors building an earthen levee. "The only thing now is divine intervention."

Even after they crest, the floodwaters may not begin receding before Wednesday, creating a lingering risk of a catastrophic failure in levees put together mostly by volunteers.

National Guard troops fanned out to inspect floodwalls for leaks and weak spots, and residents piled sandbags on top of 12 miles of snow-covered dikes. The bitterly cold temperatures froze the bags solid, turning them into what residents hoped would be a watertight barrier.

Hundreds of Guard troops poured in from around the state and neighboring South Dakota, along with scores of American Red Cross workers from as far away as Modesto, Calif.

The river swelled Friday to 40.67 feet -- more than 22 feet above flood stage and beyond the previous high-water mark of 40.1 feet in 1897.

In one flooded neighborhood, a man paddled a canoe through ice floes and swirling currents.

Mayor Dennis Walaker cautiously expressed hope that the river would stay below 43 feet -- the limit of the reinforced dikes. He said there was not enough time left to build the levees any higher.

The frigid weather helped stave off worse flooding; officials said the river was rising more slowly because freezing temperatures prevented snow from melting.

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