Red River Valley flood fight shifts north of Fargo

Published 8:52 am Monday, April 11, 2011

FARGO, N.D. — The Red River Valley flood fight shifted Sunday from the cities of Fargo and Moorhead, to rural areas north of the north-flowing river, which crested Saturday night in Fargo at its fourth highest level in recorded history.

Fargo officials said the metropolitan area appears to be in good shape, but urged residents not to travel outside the city. About 60 miles of roads were closed in Cass County, where Fargo is located, and another 10 miles of roads were washed over, officials said. Interstate 29 north of Fargo was closed for about 25 miles.

Some tributaries of the Red River were at record levels.

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“In the southern part of the valley, it’s quiet,” Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said Sunday. “In the northern part of the valley, especially in Cass County, they’re having extreme problems.”

About 425 National Guard members were on duty in Cass County and were ready to help with evacuations if needed, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple said Sunday. He said there haven’t been “many very serious situations,” but officials were monitoring the rise of overland flooding.

“Things are pretty rough in the county,” Dalrymple said.

One man was rescued by a Cass County Sheriff’s Department airboat Sunday when he became stuck in his tractor near Argusville after the flooded road gave out beneath him, National Guard officials said. Five other people and a dog near Argusville were evacuated by airboat when a dike reportedly gave way.

Residents in Harwood, north of Fargo, and Casselton, west of Fargo, were told to stop using water because their sanitary sewer systems were starting to back up. Several other communities asked citizens to restrict use of water.

The National Weather Service reported Sunday that the river crested in Fargo about 6:15 p.m. Saturday at a level of 38.75 feet. The only higher floods were 40.84 feet in 2009, 39.72 feet in 1997, and 39.10 feet in 1897. Flood stage for the river is 18 feet.

This spring’s flood threat was set up by high moisture in the soil after back-to-back wet years, followed by an extremely snowy winter. The Red River Valley’s extremely flat topography also makes it prone to flooding in any year.

Heavy rain fell at times in the Fargo area on Sunday, but the weather service said it shouldn’t impact the Red River level. Dry weather was forecast for most of the week.

“We’re still looking at high waters for a while,” said Jim Scarlett, weather service meteorologist. “The threat is not over, but it’s subsiding.”

Scarlett said the added rain would prolong overland flooding in the county “and that’s a bad thing.”

Fargo and Moorhead officials reported few problems with clay levees and sandbag dikes. About 10 people reported minor problems with pumps overnight, said Tim Mahoney, Fargo deputy mayor.

“Tomorrow we’ll talk about plans for taking sandbags out of the neighborhoods. Do some things to promote more normal activities,” Mahoney said.

Fargo was already scraping mud off the streets from the delivery of clay and sand. In one neighborhood, city commissioner Mike Williams said, “You could eat off the street.”

Fargo was trucking some of its clay to Harwood for the construction of levees, Mahoney said.

“They’re in a fight,” the deputy mayor said.