Flood Fears Rise in Fargo, North Dakota

Cities prepare for historic floods as Red River flow continues to build.

ByABC News
March 25, 2009, 4:48 PM

March 25, 2009— -- North Dakota is in a race against time as residents try to shore up huge sandbag levees ahead of massive flooding expected to hit this weekend. Forecasters predict the Red River's waters will crest at 41 feet by early Saturday, exceeding record levels set in 1997.

Along the river, residents engaged in a frantic battle against the fast-rising water and bitter cold. Water reached 35.6 feet in Fargo by midday Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service. City officials said they'll add another foot to the dikes -- already 42 feet high -- in an effort to withstand the river's crest.

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 41-foot crest in Fargo would be two 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.

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 today. "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."

In Bismarck, demolition crews used explosives to blast through an ice jam in the Missouri River, whose waters threatened low-lying regions of the city. Blizzard conditions and more than 8 inches of snow heightened the alert, where about 1,700 residents were forced to evacuate.

In Fargo, where three swollen rivers converge, it's been all hands on deck. Thousands of volunteers from across the state worked around the clock, building a 12-mile fortress of millions of sandbags to hold back the water Wednesday.

"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.