Red River flow slowly dropping, but the fight is far from over
Fargo-Moorhead got a slight reprieve Saturday, as it appears that, for now, the Red River has crested at a slightly lower level than expected.
While the news brought a sense of cautious optimism to those on the front lines of the flood fight, officials on both sides of the river urged people to stay "on full alert" against breaks in dikes and levees.
Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said the metro area will be dealing with high water through at least next Friday.
That's in part because the National Weather Service is forecasting a storm that could dump 6 to 8 inches of snow in the Wild Rice and Red river basins Monday and Tuesday.
Weather service and city officials also say a large amount of snowmelt south of F-M must still make its way to the Red and through the metro next week.
"All of that is basically going to reload the system," said Mark Ewens, data manager for the weather service in Grand Forks, N.D. He said there is still "a tremendous amount of water" south of the metro.
Still, by 10:15 p.m. Saturday, the river had dropped to 40.42 feet. The weather service said the river crested around midnight at 40.82 feet. However, the National Weather Service was predicting that it would bump up to 40.6 feet sometime today, before dropping again.
The variation in flood forecasts has been a roller coaster throughout the week with the crest objection edging upward twice before being lowered Saturday. Walaker opened a morning briefing by apologizing for earlier criticizing the weather service.
Greg Gust, a warning coordination meteorologist for the weather service, said the predictions are complex. The river's record levels and the volatile temperatures don't allow anyone to be certain, and the National Weather Service continued to hedge its prediction Saturday.
"The relative uncertainty in forecast models remain, and the river will continue to behave in ways never before seen,'' the weather service said.
Not backing down
Despite Saturday's crest news, officials have not backed down in their efforts to fend off the floodwaters, deploying high-tech Predator drone aircraft, calling up more National Guard troops and asking residents to form neighborhood dike patrols to look for any breaches in levees.
In Moorhead, thousands of residents had evacuated by Saturday.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers worked busily Saturday on a new emergency dike on both sides of Eighth Street South, from roughly 30th to 37th avenues south. The dike is to protect homes from spillover from two storm sewer systems.
Water covered the far northbound lane for about a block at 36th Avenue.
"Right now we're confident, but if the dikes break we'll have people standing on their roofs,'" Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist said.
In Fargo, the main focus is whether the long line of levees will be able to hold up against the floodwaters - regardless of their level. Anytime water is pressed up against a levee for a considerable period of time, there is a risk of catastrophic flooding, engineers say.
The city was planning to use 1-ton sandbags to shore up parts of dikes eroded by the Red River in the River Vili and Belmont areas. There are about 60 houses are in those two subdivisions, Deputy Mayor Tim Mahoney said.
The city also is monitoring its 26 miles of Hesco sand barriers. Many are on the south side of the city and along Drain 27 leading to Rose Coulee. The barriers were installed on frozen ground and have allowed more seepage than expected.
Walaker said the Hesco barriers "are giving us some concern. They aren't performing to the standard we need them to." In some cases, they've tilted and had to be supported with sand and sandbags, he said.
Mahoney urged residents to keep an eye on the barriers, and to put sand or sandbags along the bottom of the barriers to stop water infiltration and use sump pumps if needed to remove seepage.
Residents were urged Saturday to obey the mandatory evacuations in the Belmont and River Vili areas. Mahoney said people are allowed in the evacuation zones to check on homes, but staying overnight in those homes is not recommended because of the danger of dike failures.
In north Fargo, Walaker said the earth and sandbag dikes look good.
In the rural areas, officials stressed that the sanitary sewer system is still running south of the city. Fargo wastewater utility manager Jim Hausauer said the lift stations are still operating.
Ransom County (N.D.) Emergency Manager Terese Rotenberger said 40 to 50 county roads are closed because of washouts.
Still, some residents in these areas already are talking about rebuilding.
R.D. "Dick" Knutson said residents of the city of Briarwood, just south of Fargo, are planning to rebuild. Only four of five of the city's homes have not yet been flooded by the Red River, he said.
"We're hanging in there," said Knutson. "We took a heck of hit, but we'll get through it.
"We're going to have the resolve to bring her back; we're already talking about our recovery plans and find out what's available to us. I guess we start over," he said.
* Sandbagging efforts will resume at 8 a.m. today at the Fargodome in an effort to build up the inventory.
* City leaders continue to ask nonessential businesses to remain closed and residents not to travel unless necessary.
* Anyone in Fargo who notices a leak should call (701) 241-1545, while serious breaches should be called into (701) 476-4007.