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U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist Joel Galloway pilots a small boat past flooded homes Monday in Moorhead. Weary residents welcomed the Red River's further retreat but faced an approaching snowstorm expected to kick up wind-whipped waves that could threaten the sandbag levees built to protect Moorhead and nearby Fargo from a major flood. AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Red River surge expected in Fargo after blizzard moves across the region

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Red River surge expected in Fargo after blizzard moves across the region
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

FARGO, N.D. -- As a blizzard howled its way toward the flood-stricken Red River Valley on Monday, officials were warned of yet another threat on the horizon: a second crest in two weeks that could send the Red River back to 40 feet.

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The National Weather Service said there is a good possibility the river will hit 37 feet in mid-April and a remote chance the Red could go to 40 feet or higher.

"It will be up there in the major flood category," said Michael Hudson, a National Weather Service spokesman who described the 40-foot possibility as "a worst-case scenario," based on available information.

Hudson said the forecast takes into account snow expected from this week's storm -- possibly 12 inches in places -- and other precipitation that could fall in early April, some as soon this weekend.

Moorhead City Engineer Bob Zimmerman said the news means one thing: "Nobody should take anything down."

He said a second crest was ominous, but added there's time to do extra work between now and the middle of April.

Conditions had improved enough in Moorhead on Monday that the city lifted its evacuation call for residents living between Main Avenue and Interstate 94 west of Eighth Street and a portion of north Moorhead near the Moorhead Country Club.

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said what happens in the future will be determined by how far the river falls before snowmelt pushes the Red higher again.

"Hopefully, the river will drop enough to take care of any moisture we get," Walaker said.

The river has been falling about a foot a day since peaking at 40.82 feet at midday Saturday. It stood at 38.8 feet at 6 p.m. Monday.

Before Fargo officials learned of the possibility of a second peak, they spoke optimistically Monday of going down from "high alert" to "alert" status and of starting the recovery process.

Also on the agenda: deciding when it is appropriate to start removing contingency dikes, or cutting holes in them to allow access to neighborhoods.

Fargo City Administrator Pat Zavoral said federal officials have informed the city of a provision in federal law that will allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to remain longer and to help out with the dike removal process.

The rule will save the city a tremendous amount of time and red tape when it comes to cleaning up, Zavoral said.

Zimmerman said Moorhead is looking into whether it can take advantage of the federal provision.

He said of the approximately 2,600 households asked to voluntarily evacuate, about 35 percent have done so.

Fargo and Moorhead officials advised drivers to stay off the streets during and immediately after the blizzard because snow clearing efforts will focus on keeping emergency routes open.

Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland urged residents in the remaining voluntary evacuation zone to stay away from their homes a while longer to keep pressure off of the city's sewer system.

Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist told rural residents thinking of evacuating to do it during daylight hours.

He also asked people to report any roads that are washed out or that have water running over them.

Also Monday, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty talked with Moorhead and National Guard officials and then went with Guard troops to look at damage in Oakport Township north of Moorhead.

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