Weary North Dakota residents prepare for 2nd river crest

Wednesday, April 8th 2009, 11:01 am
By: News 9

FARGO, N.D. (AP) -- Marc Shannon says he trusts the two-week-old sandbag dike behind his south Fargo house, but that didn't stop him from asking a passing survey crew for some help as he prepared for a second crest of the swollen Red River.
   "Can you do me a huge favor?" Shannon asked one crew as they walked neighborhoods Tuesday using lasers to check dike levels. "Can you shoot my step there so I know what my main floor is?"
   Shannon wanted to know how high waters would have to creep to flood the first floor of his house. After surviving a record-setting crest at the end of March, he and other weary Fargo residents were hoping their sandbags can handle another round.
   There was some relief Tuesday after the newest crest prediction came in lower than preliminary estimates. The Red River crested at 40.82 feet on March 28. The National Weather Service now projects a second crest between 38 and 40 feet in mid-April -- a measure of good news after forecasters had given a 75 percent chance just last week that the river could hit 41 feet or more.
   "At 38 feet, boy, we're standing tall and maybe we can start to put this town back together again," Mayor Dennis Walaker said.
   Engineers are confident that the sandbag dikes feverishly constructed in neighborhoods late last month can handle another round, with a little more work from weary residents. The dikes were built to 43 feet and remain there, and they protected Fargo and neighboring Moorhead, Minn. -- a metro area of about 128,000 people -- from widespread damage.
   But they want residents to check both themselves and their sandbags for signs of fatigue.
   "We're going to have to do the best we can to re-energize the community and get those levees where they need to be," said April Walker, a city engineer.
   The city is also again asking for volunteers to help make sandbags Wednesday morning at the Fargodome parking lot, in hopes of bumping up their stores from 200,000 to 500,000. Those will be used primarily to shore up dikes and fill leaks, officials said.
   This spring's lingering Red River flooding comes from a combination of record precipitation in the fall, an early freeze, heavy snows and saturated soils. A slow melt and the lack of precipitation in the last week are good signs, the weather service said.
   In the meantime, neighborhoods are quiet except for occasional National Guard trucks ferrying sandbags. Brady Oberg, a private surveyor hired by the city, said he hasn't seen many residents on his daily rounds.
   "Everybody seems to be at work now," Oberg said. "It will probably look a little different in a couple of days."
   National Guard workers dropped off several pallets of sandbags in Shannon's driveway on Monday night. Guard trucks drove through a hole in a backup levee that puts Shannon's house on the wrong side of the dike. Visitors must park two blocks away and climb a temporary wooden staircase over the mud wall.
   "It's a heck of a mess and it doesn't make you feel very good," Shannon said of the backup levee. "But you have to have it, because somebody along here could have made a bad dike. It just takes one spot."
   Some, like Maj. Gen. Dave Sprynczynatyk of the North Dakota National Guard, are worried that the age of the sandbags will require more constant monitoring the second time around.
   Walker, the city engineer, said most of the sandbags have been protected with plastic sheeting and appear to be holding up.
   "A few weeks is not, in my mind, a big deal for a sandbag," Walker said.