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With wind-whipped flags in the foreground, the flooded Red River covers a portion of the Grand Forks side of the closed Sorlie Bridge late Wednesday afternoon, April 13, 2011. The image is taken from a YouTube video recorded by "Daninator."

Red River at Grand Forks, East Grand Forks crested Thursday

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Willmar,Minnesota 56201 http://www.wctrib.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/fieldimages/1/1130/41411sorlieyoutubestill-cropped.jpg?itok=dT22g91q
West Central Tribune
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Red River at Grand Forks, East Grand Forks crested Thursday
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

It appears the Red River crested as early as 1:30 p.m. Thursday a few inches below 50 feet in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, more than two feet lower than feared only days before.

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The highest reading so far was reached at ninety minutes after noon Thursday at 49.67 feet.

Since then, it's been mostly in decline.

"It looks like the river is in its crest," said Chauncy Schultz, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, at 7:15 p.m. "There might be some minor fluctuations in the next six to 12 hours, but essentially, we are in the crest right now."

A crest of 49.67 feet still would be the third highest on record, but it felt like something less than a big flood after earlier expectations of much more water.

At 6:30 p.m., it was at 49.47 feet. By 7:30 p.m., it was at 49.56; by 8:30 p.m. it was back down to 49.49 feet.

By 7:30 p.m. Thursday, the tell-tale signs were there on the leafless cottonwoods standing temporarily in the river: dark, wet rings remaining steadily apparent just above the Red's swift-moving current.

The feeling was of the flood being on the wane in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks Thursday as people continued to find places to watch the river flow.

After Sunday's heavy rains across northwest Minnesota, the weather service upped its crest prediction to 52 feet. But on Wednesday it twice lowered its prediction by a foot each time, still predicting it would hit late Thursday in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks.

At 11:30 a.m. Thursday, the weather service cranked its forecast down another small notch, to 49.8 feet, expected to arrive by about 7 p.m. Thursday.

But as news of the apparent lower and earlier crest spread Thursday evening, there were signs of relief.

"It looks very good," said East Grand Forks Mayor Lynn Stauss Thursday night. "Now we just have to keep an eye on it and hope it goes down quicker than it's supposed to. It will probably last another week or so."

Things were kind of quiet Thursday in the Grand Forks city/county Emergency Operations Center, said Donna Flaten, who was in charge Thursday evening.

"We haven't had any rural residents call the EOC today, requesting sand or sandbags," she said. "Rural residents north of town and south of town should be OK at this point."

In town, of course, the massive flood protection system put in a decade ago after the Flood of 1997 keeps residents from worrying unless the Red were to near 60 feet.

Two local roads in Walle Township south of Grand Forks were closed Thursday, but they didn't involve isolating any rural homes, Flaten said.

The EOC continued its 24-hour schedule Thursday but will close at 8 p.m. Friday and will be open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, she said.

It all is part of a steady decline in predictions of the Red's rise this week.

The weather service had again lowered its projected crest for the Red River at East Grand Forks and Grand Forks at 11 a.m. Thursday, saying it would crest at about 49.8 feet at about 7 tonight.

It stayed below 49.7 feet all afternoon and dropped below 49.6 feet at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.

Late Wednesday night, it changed its crest forecast from 51 feet to 50 feet, to hit late tonight.

The river was at 49.67 feet as of 1:30 p.m. and at 49.62 feet at 2:30 p.m.

A crest of 49.8 feet still would be the third highest crest recorded. Number one is the 54.35 feet hit in 1997 and second highest is 50.2 feet in 1897. On April 1, 2009, the Red hit 49.33 feet, the current third-highest mark until this spring's measure is made official.

The weather service also lowered its predicted crest on the Red at Drayton, N.D., by six inches Thursday, and said it will arrive about a day earlier that previously predicted. The new crest forecast is 43.5 feet expected late Monday or early Tuesday.

For more than a day, the Red at Oslo, Minn., has been around the 38-feet level where it's expected to stay for several days. Its high point there so far was 38.07 feet reached at 4:30 a.m. Thursday; after faltering a little, it was back at 38.07 feet at 3:15 p.m.

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Steve Lee
(701) 780-1237
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