Record Fargo Flood Forecast; Prayer Replaces Jokes - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Record Fargo Flood Forecast; Prayer Replaces Jokes

Posted: Updated:

FARGO, N.D. - North Dakota's largest city moved to the brink of potentially disastrous flooding Thursday, with earlier optimism fading as officials predicted the Red River would reach a record-high crest of 41 feet by the weekend.

Thousands of volunteers who have been piling sandbags for days scrambled to add another foot to Fargo's dike protection, and official briefings lost the jokes and quips that had broken the tension earlier in the week. Instead, Thursday's meeting opened with a prayer.

"We need all the help we can get," Mayor Dennis Walaker said.

The city of 92,000 unveiled a contingency evacuation plan Thursday afternoon, but at least four nursing homes already had begun moving residents by then.

"A few of them said they didn't want to go. I said I'm going where the crowd goes," said 98-year-old Margaret "Dolly" Beaucage, who clasped rosary beads as she waited to leave Elim Care Center.

"I'm a swimmer," she said, smiling, "but not that good a swimmer."

The sandbag-making operation at the Fargodome churned as furiously as ever, sending fresh bags out to volunteers who endured temperatures below 20 degrees in the race to sandbag to 43 feet. Leon Schlafmann, Fargo's emergency management director, said he was confident they would succeed by the end of Thursday.

"I was skeptical as far as volunteers coming out today, but they're like mailmen," Schlafmann said. "They come out rain, sleet or shine."

Schlafmann also said he is confident the dikes will hold even through several days of high water. "We might lose a neighborhood or a few homes, but we won't lose the whole city," he said.

Similar sandbagging was under way across the river in Moorhead, Minn., where some homes in a low-lying northern township had already flooded.

As the struggle continued in Fargo, the threat in the state capital of Bismarck was receding. A day after explosives were used to attack an ice jam on the Missouri River south of the city of 59,000, the river had fallen by 2 1/2 feet. At least 1,700 people had been evacuated from low-lying areas of town before the river began to fall.

Crews were rescuing stranded residents in rural areas south of Fargo. On Wednesday, 46 people were rescued by airboat from 15 homes, and Cass County Sheriff Paul D. Laney said early Thursday that he had received another 11 evacuation requests from homeowners.

As the river crept perilously close to houses built along the Red, residents held out hope that the final sandbagging effort would work. The southern parts of the city, mostly residential areas, were seen as most vulnerable, and the city was building contingency dikes behind the main dike in some areas.

Dick Bailly, 64, choked up as he looked out over his backyard dike at the river. Like other residents, Bailly thought the 41.5-foot height that many dikes were built to in recent days would be enough. That was before the National Weather Service, after days of projecting the crest at 39 to 41 feet, settled on the higher number Wednesday.

The river was almost 39 feet by midday Thursday and was expected to crest Saturday. The Red hit 39.57 feet in 1997, and the record is 40.1 feet in 1897.

"It was demoralizing this morning," Bailly said, his eyes welling. "We got a lot of work to do. People have the will to respond, but you can only fight nature so much, and sometimes nature wins."

On a sandbag line behind another house near the river, 65-year-old Will Wright, a veteran of Fargo floods, helped stack bags as water began to seep through his homemade dike. Like others, he said he was confident the dike would hold - for a while.

"The big concern I have is the river crest staying three to five days and it testing the integrity of these sandbags," Wright said.

In Moorhead, both entrances to the Crystal Creek development were flooded, leaving Deb and Scott Greelis thinking about how they and their kids - ages 6, 2 and 2 months - could get out if things get much worse.

"We are pretty much stuck in here," Deb Greelis said. But she said they could haul the kids in a sled to a nearby highway on higher ground if they need to evacuate.

The rush to sandbag eliminated a complication caused by the subfreezing weather. Sandbags had gotten frozen earlier in the week, making them difficult to stack tightly together; people were seen slamming bags to the ground to break them up.

Now the sandbags are moving too fast to freeze.

"They are stacking nicely," Fargo spokeswoman Bette Deede said.

The city said that if there is a levy breach and an evacuation is necessary, residents will be notified via sirens, an automated phone recorded message system and emergency broadcasts.

Walaker, the mayor, conceded that the city's optimism about holding back the flood waters had dimmed since earlier in the week. But he said people needed to stay confident.

"We do not want people to go out there and panic," he said. "That is not going to resolve anything."

He said he still believes the city will be OK.

"I was asked for odds last night," he said. "I would say we got a simple 3-, maybe 4-to-1 chance of beating this - and those are good odds at any race track in the United States."

Powered by Frankly
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2018 KFMB-TV. All Rights Reserved.
For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy, and Terms of Service, and Ad Choices.