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Area volunteers answer plea for help along Red River; two buses with more than 100 volunteers depart for Fargo area

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WILLMAR -- Area residents are continuing to respond to pleas for help fighting the rising Red River in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

Two buses with possibly more than 100 volunteers were expected to depart from Peace Lutheran Church in New London early this morning, after the United Way of West Central Minnesota and Green Lake Lutheran Ministries joined to organize the trip.

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People from the area had been calling both organizations, asking how they could help. That led the two to join forces and organize the buses, said Bev Kingman with Green Lake Ministries. She said people are well aware of the urgency of the flood fight taking place in the Fargo-Moorhead area, and want to help out.

The mood on the front lines is very much about helping as well, and it's upbeat.

Craig Baumann of Granite Falls, a junior at North Dakota State University in Fargo, said Thursday that he spent much of the past few days filling and pitching sandbags. He said the mood in Fargo reminds him of what he witnessed during the floods and tornado in Granite Falls. "There's a real sense of community,'' he said.

Baumann said classes have been cancelled all week at NDSU, and many of the students have been volunteering to sandbag.

Erik Hatlestad, a freshman from New London attending Concordia College in Moorhead, was inching his way in bumper-to-bumper traffic when reached by cell phone late Thursday afternoon. He too had been spending his time off from school sandbagging, but was now preparing to leave town. He said school officials were closing the campus and asking students to evacuate as a precaution.

Officials in Fargo and Moorhead announced contingency plans for evacuating neighborhoods on Thursday, and received shocking word late Thursday that has raised major fears: The National Weather Service is now predicting a crest at 42 to 43 feet, or higher than the record 41-foot crest that the dikes have been built to withstand.

The dike building is a seemingly frantic but well-organized effort to protect the city, and one that 38 drivers with trucks from Duininck Bros. Inc. of Prinsburg, are playing a front-line role in. Mike Felt, foreman, said Thursday that the drivers are continuing their around-the-clock effort to build up the dikes. They've been battling snow and slippery conditions, but he said the campaign is going as well as can be expected.

Felt said he has been impressed most of all by the thousands of volunteers he has seen pitching sandbags in the winter-like conditions. "Say what you can about them,'' said Felt, "they're really doing a lot.''

It is work well worth the doing, according to Jesse Gislason, who had helped lead a group of 30 volunteers from the Spicer area to Fargo on Tuesday. Gislason said the volunteers were a very tired crew on their way home, but felt great about the work they did. He said residents in the area where they worked went out of their way to thank them, and treated them with snacks the entire time. "I felt like royalty,'' he said.

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