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North Dakota and Minnesota brace for flooding

The Red River, already above flood stage, is expected to crest Friday. Residents are urged to help fill sandbags.

March 23, 2009|Associated Press

FARGO, N.D. — Officials in North Dakota and Minnesota issued urgent pleas for volunteers to help fill sandbags as a Sunday storm increased the threat of flooding in an area already expected to be swamped by a record river crest.

"We need this help," Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney said. "We need to stay calm, we need to stay cool, but we need to get serious and get this done."

The National Weather Service said the Red River was about 3 feet above flood stage Sunday in Fargo, and more water was on the way. The river was expected to crest between 39 feet and 41 feet in the Fargo-Moorhead area by Friday, a day earlier and a foot higher than projected.

City officials originally planned to fill more than 1 million sandbags, but now think they need nearly 1.9 million bags to protect neighborhoods that would be affected by the new projections. About 400,000 to 500,000 bags must be filled each day to reach the goal by the end of the week, officials said.

The Minnesota National Guard said Sunday that more than 200 soldiers would be heading to the Red River Valley to help. The North Dakota National Guard said about 250 troops were ready.

Even so, Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker asked for help from residents as rain began falling Sunday outside City Hall.

"What we want to do is avoid any kind of chaos," Walaker said. "This is a system where everybody works very hard to provide organization to this process."

Across the river, Moorhead, Minn., Mayor Mark Voxland said he did not think the two cities were ready for a flood that could top the record crest of 39.6 feet in 1997.

Laney said 25 inmates from the Cass County Jail would be filling sandbags overnight, and Fargo high school students were being released from classes if they wanted to help.

The North Dakota State football team signed up to fill sandbags.

Sandbags were being placed in garages Sunday night to prevent freezing in particularly vulnerable neighborhoods where about 700 homes needed protection, Walaker said.

"You can't place frozen sandbags. They're just like rocks, and they leak like sieves," Walaker said.

Officials also said a dike protecting downtown Fargo was being raised to about 43 feet and an emergency levee south of the city was being completed. They said 80% of the work had been done.

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