Volunteers prepare for really big flood

Red River crest could top historic 1997 levels in Fargo and Moorhead; disaster organizations plan for response.

FARGO, ND | March 22, 2009

Volunteers fill sandbags to protect this Moorhead, MN neighborhood from flooding that may be worse than the historic 1997 flood.
Credit: DNN/Nancy Hanson

Rising water along the Cannonball River in southwest North Dakota forced the Saturday evacuation of seven families in Mott, a small town in Hettinger County. The evacuations came as hundreds of volunteers filled sandbags in a number of different communities in the Red River Basin.

The families in Mott were last evacuated in 1997 when record flooding hit the region.

Flooding this week in the Red River Basin could rival flooding from 1997, according to the National Weather Service. Minor flooding in some areas has already begun and sand bagging operations have been started in Fargo, ND, and Moorhead, MN, as community leaders are preparing for the potentially high waters.

An Advance Emergency Response Team of disaster response specialists is being sent from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) office in Denver Monday to work with state and local officials.

North Dakota's Gov. John Hoeven has requested that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provide assistance in preparation for the expected flooding in Devils Lake, Red River of the North and Souris River basins.

Several faith-based organizations are also active and preparing to respond.

The Salvation Army is serving food to volunteers building up the sandbag levies in the Fargo/Moorhead area.

“When the sandbags show up to the neighborhoods, they must be unloaded and placed immediately,” said Captain Adam Moore, administrator of the Fargo Salvation Army. “That means there’s no time for volunteers to take breaks, or go to restaurants. But through The Salvation Army’s Emergency Disaster Services (EDS), we can nourish these people as they perform the critical work needed to save this area from catastrophe.”

"We're trying to be more proactive, knowing the flooding could be really bad," said the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, of The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).

Hazelwood said district disaster response coordinators for The United Methodist Church are keeping UMCOR informed on conditions in the region.

In 1997, the flood waters crested above 39 feet. The National Weather Service is projecting the Red River will crest between 39 and 41 feet in the Fargo area during the period of March 28 to April 1. Other rivers in the area are also forecasted to flood.

A 40-foot crest would be 22-feet above flood level in Fargo. Major flooding is expected when the river rises to 30-feet. At 28-feet, emergency officials will take steps to protect the city's sewage treatment plant. Mayor Dennis Walaker has estimated 2.3 million sandbags will be needed in the city and Cass County. Emergency officials are concentrating on protecting more than a dozen communities from overland flooding.

"We are looking at a situation with all the ingredients for near record flooding in the Upper Midwest," said Jack Hayes, director of the National Weather Service. "Sudden snowpack melts due to warm temperatures or a heavy rain could further complicate the flooding on the northern plains."

On Saturday, the NWS said snow had already begun melting in the region and heavy rain was forecasted for Sunday night and Monday morning, eventually turning to snow by Tuesday.

Sandbagging efforts are not the only preparations taking place.

"United Methodists are in the process of putting together cleanup kits," Hazelwood said. "We've put our warehouse on notice that we may need to be getting flood buckets ready to get up there."

NECHAMA, a Jewish communities disaster relief organization based in Minnesota, sent out an email notice Friday to supporters that it expects to be asking for volunteers in the coming weeks to help with flood cleanup.

Stephanie Backus contributed to this article.

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Related Links:

Moorhead, MN has posted a Flood 2009 Blog


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