Sat, Mar 28, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Upper Midwest sandbags against Red River flooding

MANDATORY EVACUATION The Red River, which flows north between North Dakota and Minnesota to Canada, was near a record high of 12.2m set in 1897

AP , FARGO, NORTH DAKOTA

Officials in Fargo ordered the mandatory evacuation of one neighborhood and a nursing home late on Thursday after authorities found cracks in an earthen levee built around the area.

Authorities said the residents were not in immediate danger, and there was no water breaching the levee. The evacuation was being enforced as a precaution.

Officers were going door-to-door to the roughly 40 homes in the River Vili neighborhood in south Fargo; they also were moving residents of the Riverview Estates nursing home. Authorities also called for the voluntary evacuation of about 1,000 people who live between the main dikes and backups in various parts of the city.

That evacuation could become mandatory, officials said.

Fargo, a city of 92,000 people, is on high alert after forecasters said on Thursday the Red River could crest higher than predicted — at a record 13.1m.

The Red River was almost 12m by midday Thursday and was expected to crest today. Its record was 12.2m in 1897.

Thousands of volunteers who have been piling sandbags for days scrambled to increase Fargo’s dike protection against the river 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.

US President Barack Obama earlier this week declared the entire state of North Dakota a disaster area in response to widespread flooding.

The federal government announced a disaster declaration on Thursday for seven Minnesota counties. The entire state of North Dakota had already been given a disaster designation earlier in the week.

The Red River flows north from the US into Manitoba before emptying into Lake Winnipeg.

Paul Guyader, the Winnipeg region’s emergency services coordinator, said Canadian authorities were predicting a crest of nearly 6m in the Winnipeg area next week, an estimate based in part on what’s going on in the US.

“In most of our areas between the border and Winnipeg ... the communities have been built up to accept that water,” Guyader said. “Most of the homes have been lifted onto the hills.”

Still, some Canadians began evacuating homes this week as ice-clogged culverts, ice jams and the rising river threatened nearby sites.

Canadian officials said about 850 people are on evacuation alert in southern Manitoba. At least 40 homes north of Winnipeg already have been emptied.

Four rural river communities — St Andrews, St Clements, East St Paul and West St Paul — declared states of emergency. The province has deployed two sandbagging machines in the region and emergency crews have brought in huge chunks of limestone rock to shore up low-lying areas around the four towns, officials said.

Fargo’s largest hospital also began evacuating patients on Thursday.

About 180 people were being transferred by air, ambulances and buses to hospitals in Bismarck, North Dakota; Minneapolis, Minnesota and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and elsewhere, a MeritCare Hospital spokesman said.

Authorities across the river in Moorhead, Minnesota, also stepped up evacuations on Thursday. They recommended that residents leave the southwest corner of the city and a low-lying township to the north.

In Fargo, the sandbag-­making operation at the Fargodome churned as furiously as ever, sending fresh bags out to volunteers who endured below-freezing temperatures in the race.

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