River Relief: Water Level Expected to Drop

One question on Fargo residents' minds: Will the levees hold?

ByBarbara Pinto and Alice Gomstyn
March 28, 2009, 12:08 PM

March 28, 2009 — -- The swelling river threatening part of the Midwest seems to have lost some of its bite: The National Weather Service now says that the Red River at Fargo, N.D., is expected to remain below 41 feet and drop slowly in coming days.

Earlier, forecasters had predicted the river could crest at 43 feet. But now, they say, the river may have already crested at just below 41 feet, its rise tempered by freezing temperatures.

Residents, however, aren't in the clear yet: A snowstorm is expected to hit the area next week. Meanwhile, ice already in the river could cause problems, said National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Hudson.

"River fluctuations are still possible," he said. "There's a considerable amount of ice in the river, especially on the edges of the river, that could break loose."

Earlier today, President Barack Obama pledged the government's support in fighting the floods threatening the Midwest.

"Even as we face an economic crisis which demands our constant focus, forces of nature can also intervene in ways that create other crises to which we must respond -- and respond urgently," the president said in his weekly radio and Internet address.

"I will continue to monitor the situation carefully," he said. "We will do what must be done to help."

Obama urged residents of North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota to check flood-condition reports and to follow instructions from government officials in case of evacuation.

The president said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard, the Defense Department, the National Guard, the Health and Human Services Department and the American Red Cross were all involved in the federal flood response being coordinated by the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

He praised volunteers building barriers against the rising waters.

"At moments like these, we are reminded of the power of nature to disrupt lives and endanger communities," he said. "But we are also reminded of the power of individuals to make a difference."

Sandbag walls in Fargo, N.D. and some dikes across the river in Moorhead, Minn. are holding for now, aided by the cold weather that has slowed the rise of the river.

Moorehead resident Judy Molldrem said that, so far, the two dikes near her property have helped keep her two-story home dry. But she knows many others in Moorehead, she said, who haven't been as lucky.

"Our sympathies are going out to those people who fought the battle and the water has come in anyway, no matter what they've done," she said.

She and her husband, Molldrem said, have considered evacuating but they're staying put for now.

"Right now we're just kind of watching it hour by hour to decide what we're going to do," she said.

In Fargo, the question nagging residents and local officials is whether the record-high river will breach the city's 43-foot flood wall.

"It's a day-by-day thing," Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said on "Good Morning America" today. "We're as high as we can go right now."

Walaker praised local residents for their work in erecting barriers to protect the city. He compared their efforts to those undertaken during the last major flooding seen in the region, in 1997.

"We've done as much work as we did in '97 in about a third of the time," he said. "That's amazing for our people here that are fighting the flood."

Fargo, which is home to 92,000, brought in all the help it could: earth moving crews and thousands of National Guard troops built a second ring of levees for added protection inside the sandbagged walls.

Also helping were American Red Cross workers from as far away as Modesto,, Calif., homeowners and students. North Dakota officials deployed high-tech Predator drone aircraft to monitor the river.

Fargo has evacuated its hospitals and nursing homes. Walaker said officials were also urging families to evacuate young children.

Meanwhile entire neighborhoods moved out of Moorehead and for many, leaving means seeking refuge in an emergency shelter.

Randi Bernard, her husband and 8-year-old daughter are staying on cots in a local high school gym.

"It is tough to leave," she said, as tears streamed down her face, "but we'll make it."

The Associated Press and ABC News Radio's Mark Garrison contributed to this report.

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