North Dakota Racing Against the Rising River

"Everybody's got, you know, jobs to do too, while they're still trying to fight this thing," said Iverson's husband, Wade.

The cold weather isn't helping. The 30-pound sandbags typically fit together like puzzle pieces, but that changes when they freeze and become more rigid.

"If we leave them sitting outside for too long, they become like blocks of concrete and they're hard to work with, and they don't really work for flood protection at that point," said Capt. Dave Todd.

Thousands of volunteers from across the state worked around the clock Wednesday to hold back the water. Local universities and high schools canceled classes to lend manpower to the city for the sandbagging effort.

"They're in need of students and anyone else who can work," said Karl Underdahl, a college student. "We're here working."

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said the city is bracing for the worst.

"We're talking about levels never reached before by any stretch of the imagination," he said.

A 43-foot crest in Fargo would be almost four feet higher than the record level of 39.6 in April 1997, when the area was struck by one of the largest and costliest floods in U.S. history. President Obama has already declared the state a federal disaster area.

"The water's coming up. The snow's coming down. The rain is coming down. … It's crazy," said Eric Lorenz, a sandbag volunteer who waded through six inches of snow.

Downstream from Fargo in Oxbow, the Missouri River showed its muscle when icy floods burst levees and swallowed homes. Rescuers in airboats pulled stranded residents to safety.

"It was terrifying," said one resident who was rescued by officials Wednesday. "The water wasn't that deep this morning and we woke up, we got to the window… and there was the river... just right there."

ABC News' Lauren Sher contributed to this report.

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