Water seeps past sandbags fortifying weak North Dakota dam
Thursday, April 16th 2009, 12:16 pm
By: News 9
KATHRYN, N.D. (AP) -- National Guard troops dropped sandbags from a helicopter early Thursday to shore up a weakening dam that is protecting a small town from flooding, an official said.
Overnight, water from a tributary of the Sheyenne River began seeping past one-ton sandbags that troops laid down Wednesday to reinforce the Clausen Springs Dam, North Dakota National Guard Lt. Col. Rick Smith said.
Authorities have said the town of Kathryn, six miles east, would be flooded should the dam fail. Its 55 residents were evacuated Wednesday.
Smith said a quick reaction force using night-vision goggles began dropping more sandbags at about 3 a.m. Thursday, and that their efforts would continue throughout the day.
"They are just putting reinforcements there to stop that leakage," he said.
On Wednesday, residents fled to relatives' homes or a Red Cross shelter after officials went door to door telling them to get out. The Guard has about 35 soldiers in Kathryn, Smith said.
Fire Chief Paul Fisher was on Kathryn's Main Street Wednesday, using a two-way radio to monitor the flow of three culverts outside town. If they break, he said, "I'll make one more sweep through town and get out of here."
Kathryn is 17 miles south of Valley City, which is battling record high water on the Sheyenne River.
In Valley City, the Guard continued to patrol the dikes and watch for breaches Thursday. The river topped 20 feet in Valley City on Monday, breaking its previous record high set in 1882. It was expected to reach 21.5 feet by early next week, the National Weather Service said.
"Valley City is definitely not out of the woods," Smith said. The elderly, disabled and people living in low-lying areas had been urged to evacuate by 6 p.m. Wednesday to make sure emergency routes were kept open. Mayor Mary Lee Nielson said that would affect about 1,450 homes -- "not quite half the city" of nearly 7,000 people.
Nielson said she knows some people will stay in their homes but she hopes they will choose to leave.
"I told people in a nice way, 'If you don't have a reason to be here, to flush a toilet, leave,"' she said.
Fran Aune and her stepdaughter, Deb Wacha, moved Aune's belongings out of her duplex Wednesday. Aune and her husband, Andrew, planned to set up a camper on a higher part of Valley City and wait out the floodwaters.
"It's scary," she said. "We've been praying a lot."
Valley City State University, with an enrollment of about 1,000, canceled its spring semester on campus, which has been torn up by dike work, and planned to offer courses online instead.
Roads across North Dakota were flooded and travelers were warned regularly about delays or detours due to high water. Amtrak has suspended service between Minot and St. Paul, Minn., because of track flooding east of Minot.
The Sheyenne empties into the Red River, which is expected to reach a second flood crest of its own near Fargo this week. The Red crested at Fargo and neighboring Moorhead, Minn., late last month just short of 41 feet, after volunteers filled thousands of sandbags to raise levees above that mark. Projections of the river's second crest have been lowered to about 36 feet.