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As nation watches, President Barack Obama pledges flood support

In this photo released by the White House, from left, Minn. Rep. Collin Peterson, N.D. Sen. Kent Conrad, President Barack Obama, N.D. Sen. Byron Dorgan and N.D. Rep. Earl Pomeroy review flood disaster coverage in North Dakota newspapers. White House photo by Pete Souza

The entire nation is tuning in to the flood fight here, including the president.

Barack Obama, moved by news and photos of the Red River Valley flooding, reassured his support Wednesday.

"The federal government, from the president on down, is aware of this fight being heroically made in the Red River Valley ... and throughout North Dakota," North Dakota U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy said. "They've committed (to help) wholeheartedly."

He and North Dakota U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad were among the delegation that met with Obama on Wednesday, thanking him for immediately issuing a federal disaster declaration "in record time" Tuesday.

"As we go through this, he's prepared to stand with us to make sure we have full recovery," Conrad said. "We've got full support now of the Obama administration."

The federal aid will cover 75 percent of the costs incurred by state and local government from flood-fighting efforts. And it could include more.

"What the total costs are at this point are dependent on the outcome of the fight," Conrad said.

Their 15-minute meeting with the president Wednesday, which took place in the ceremonial vice president's office at the Capitol, also included North Dakota U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan.

"He's pledged all of the support of his administration and indicated he's prepared to do whatever is necessary to help the region recover from this flood," Dorgan said.

Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Collin Peterson also were at the meeting, though the federal disaster aid is directed at North Dakota.

To illustrate the severity of the flooding, the delegation presented Obama with poster-size copies of recent front pages of The Forum and other North Dakota newspapers.

"I think he was really quite moved by the newspaper stories," Conrad said. "It's pretty powerful stuff."

They used the newspapers to brief Obama on the flooding - not just here in Fargo, but all over the region - from Beulah-Hazen to Bismarck to Grand Forks, Conrad said.

"He expressed his sympathy for the ordeal we're going through," Pomeroy said. "But the president does understand that the front line of this fight is being waged by people of Fargo, people of Bismarck, people of the impacted communities all over the state, and expressed his support and concern for them."

However, that doesn't mean the president will be visiting anytime soon.

"When you're in the middle of the fight, that's not the time to come," Conrad said. "We need to have all hands on deck to fight this flood, and when a president comes in, that can be a big distraction in the middle of the crisis. It's better before or after."

In 1997, Vice President Al Gore and President Bill Clinton visited the Red River Valley to see the devastation.

And even though the president won't be here anytime soon, the North Dakota delegation will be. Conrad will be in Bismarck and Fargo this weekend. Today, Dorgan is scheduled to be in Fargo and Pomeroy is back in Bismarck.

"It's hard to be away from the scene," Pomeroy said en route from D.C. on Wednesday, adding that his own home is in an evacuated area in Bismarck. "So I'm feeling firsthand what everyone else ... is feeling."

Forum News Editor Devlyn Brooks contributed to this report

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kelly Smith at (701) 241-5515