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Midwest Towns On Edge As Red River Rises

In Moorhead, Minn., a street leading to the Moorhead Center Mall has already been flooded by the Red River, which is expected to crest Sunday.
Jim Mone
/
AP
In Moorhead, Minn., a street leading to the Moorhead Center Mall has already been flooded by the Red River, which is expected to crest Sunday.

Towns along the Red River in the upper Midwest watched nervously Friday to see if their makeshift sandbag levies would hold as they waited for floodwaters to crest over the weekend.

Map of the Red River
Alyson Hurt
/
NPR

In Fargo, N.D., and across the river in Moorhead, Minn., the Red is expected to reach nearly 20 feet above flood stage, threatening homes, parks and roads in low-lying neighborhoods. Bridges in Grand Forks, Minn., in the northern Red River Valley have been closed as the waters have risen.

Fresh sandbags were delivered Friday morning in Fargo.

"It's a little cold out, but we'll get it done," said City Commissioner Tim Mahoney, who lives in the Timberline neighborhood.

City officials said they've shored up flood barriers — both clay and sandbag levees — throughout Fargo, but some additional levees still need to be built.

Maj. Gen. Dave Sprynczynatyk, adjutant general for the North Dakota National Guard, said about 700 soldiers have been deployed statewide for the flood fight this spring. About 500 Guard members are in the Fargo and Cass County area.

Some rural homes north and west of Fargo have been cut off by flood waters, Minnesota Public Radio reported, quoting law enforcement response teams.

Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney said lessons learned from past flood spurred quick action this year.

"We're still in a critical flood fight, no doubt about that, but a very different fight. You know, last year we were chasing it — this year we're kind of ahead of it and waiting for it," Laney told MPR, adding that there was "a lot of pre-planning, a lot of lessons learned, and we're sitting pretty good."

Growers in the region said they weren't overly concerned about the effect of flooding because spring planting is about a month away and Fargo is better prepared than it was last year. Even so, Mayor Dennis Walaker said Thursday that it's probably "premature to be too euphoric."

Officials said a worst-case scenario — heavy spring rains and prolonged flooding well into April — could spell trouble for this year's crops and for livestock producers during the crucial calving season.

Minnesota National Guardsmen Pfc. Bruce Gangelhoff (left) and Spc. Brandt Winterquist patrol a dike along the flooding Red River in Oakport, Minn., a small community north of Moorhead, on Friday.
Jim Mone
/
AP
Minnesota National Guardsmen Pfc. Bruce Gangelhoff (left) and Spc. Brandt Winterquist patrol a dike along the flooding Red River in Oakport, Minn., a small community north of Moorhead, on Friday.

Last year, flooding rendered almost 1.9 million acres unsuitable for planting in North Dakota, said Doug Hagel, regional director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Risk Management Agency in Billings, Mont. The floods then gave way to a cool summer and rainy fall, leaving the ground unusually moist even before the winter snows began. In some places, up to 25 percent of last year's corn couldn't be harvested because of soaked fields.

"We may be looking at the same scenario this year and maybe magnified, because it was already so wet," said Doug Goehring, North Dakota's agriculture commissioner.

Back-to-back years of flooding are especially burdensome, Goehring said. Not only could it throw off his planting schedule again, but he'd also have to spend precious time clearing tree branches and other debris after the waters recede.

Producers across the state are rushing herds to higher ground, clearing drains, building dikes and putting up temporary shelters, said Jack Reich, president of the North Dakota Stockmen's Association.

Mark Huseth, who raises cattle about 50 miles southwest of Fargo, lost about 7 percent of his herd to blizzards and flooding.

"It was tough to keep them going when you couldn't find them in the snow," he said. "They'd get trampled. Then we had some drown. Some got pneumonia. It was not a good year."

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