Mon, Mar 30, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Midwest reels from freezing, severe weather

AP AND AFP , FARGO, NORTH DAKOTA AND KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI

Pete Babler inspects a levee along the flooded Red River for leaks on Saturday in Fargo, North Dakota. The National Weather Service has reported that the Red River has possibly crested and is expected to drop in coming days as people in the area continue to monitor temporary dikes for leaks.

PHOTO: AFP

With freezing water lapping at the top of levees, an army of flashlight-wielding flood patrols searched for leaks early yesterday as officials in Fargo, North Dakota, reinforced defenses against a record-breaking flood.

Officials fear as many as 30,000 people could be left homeless in the northern plains if the mighty Red River breaks through levees protecting Fargo as well as Moorhead lying on the opposite bank in Minnesota.

The weary region was granted some relief on Saturday as water level sank by several centimeters to 13.2m, but city officials warned that the river was not done with them yet.

“With water this high we absolutely are in the watch and respond and plug mode,” Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said.

The Red River is putting enormous amounts of pressure on the city’s 77km of protective dikes and levees and crews are struggling to reinforce weak spots and contain minor leaks, he told reporters.

That pressure is likely to continue for days, if not weeks, as the floods make their way slowly northward to Canada and are replenished with inflows from tributaries and overland flooding.

Bitterly cold temperatures may have saved the city from a deluge by freezing some of the floodwater and preventing further melting, officials said. But a potential blizzard forecast to dump between 10cm and 20cm of snow on the Red River Valley in the coming days may cause waves up to 60cm from high winds, the weather service warned.

Meanwhile, storms spread misery on Saturday from the Great Plains to the Gulf Coast, dumping spring snow that cut power to thousands of Kansas utility customers and spawning tornado warnings and heavy rain across the south.

Two deaths were reported in Kansas as a spring blizzard buried parts of the state in ice, slush and up to 60cm of snow. A 72-year-old man shoveling snow died of a heart attack on Saturday while waiting for an ambulance slowed by impassable roads in Arlington, in central Kansas, authorities told the Hutchinson News. On Friday, a 58-year-old woman was killed in a car accident on icy roadways in Marion County.

The National Weather Service warned eastern Iowa about a narrow band of snow that will be particularly nasty, with forecast accumulation of between 10cm and 15cm.

Mixed in with the heavy snow could be thunder and lightning, a phenomenon called thundersnow, which typically produces heavy snow over a brief period.

“Snow, and lots of it,” was Kyle Obert’s laconic assessment of the weather conditions in Iowa City.

Obert, 23, a clerk at a Casey’s General Store north of downtown, said snow began piling up at about 4pm on Saturday.

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