N.D. students leave class to help with sandbagging as flooding threatens
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
FARGO, N.D. — High school and college students were let out of class Monday to help with sandbagging as residents raced to hold off a threat of flooding from the rising Red River.
City officials planned to fill more than 1 million sandbags, but with more rain forecast they increased the need to nearly 2 million sandbags — about 500,000 each day by the end of the week.
"We're confident that we can get the bags delivered," said Bruce Grubb, Fargo's enterprise director. "Getting them made is a more daunting challenge."
North Dakota State University canceled classes Monday and Fargo high schools also excused students to help.
"The students are eager to help. We're ready to go," Fargo school spokesman Dan Huffman said.
Across the river outside Moorhead, Minn., Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton High School junior Luke Gable said he was given the option of studying or sandbagging, and decided school could wait.
"Everyone needs help right now," Gable said. "We've got fresh legs and fresh arms."
Fargo city administrator Pat Zavoral estimated the city of some 90,000 residents was about 40 percent protected as of Monday.
Flood stage at Fargo is 18 feet, and the National Weather Service said the Red River had reached 25.3 feet Monday morning. The weather service said the river is expected to crest in Fargo early Friday around 40 feet — a record.
Officials said the dike protecting downtown Fargo was being raised to about 43 feet and an emergency levee south of the city was being completed.
Minnesota and North Dakota both were sending National Guard troops to help.
Fargo is borrowing some expertise from Louisiana. The National Guard and the city plan to bring in seven miles of 4-feet high interlocking plastic containers that can be filled with sand to form temporary dikes, a system that was used during Hurricane Katrina.
"It's collapsible and easy to move," Zavoral said.
Flooding had already forced people from their homes in small ranching and farming communities in south-central North Dakota.
North Dakota National Guard members used boats Monday morning to ferry about five rural residents from farms in Emmons County, said county spokeswoman Marlys Ohlhause.
Also in Emmons County, 50 to 75 homes were evacuated Sunday night in Linton, a town of about 1,300 south of Bismarck, said county emergency manager Shawna Paul.
About 40 families had abandoned their homes in Beulah, said Mercer County emergency manager Richard Sorenson. Beulah is a coal country town of about 3,150 people, northwest of Bismarck.
"There are no injuries — just a lot of people stressed out and worried," Sorenson said.
Associated Press writer James MacPherson in Bismarck contributed to this report.