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Calm settles over Fargo after feverish flood fight

Jon Forknell and his daughter Jenna look out onto the swollen Red River on Saturday from their backyard.  (Associated Press)
Jon Forknell and his daughter Jenna look out onto the swollen Red River on Saturday from their backyard. (Associated Press)

FARGO, N.D. – They passed out cigars in Fargo on Saturday, but no matches just yet, as a flood-weary city that’s spent the last week getting ready to hold back the Red River cautiously prepared to celebrate what appeared to be a successful defense against the swollen waterway.

The river continued to inch upward toward an expected crest today a few feet below last year’s record, to be followed by a quick and steady drop. As they waited, Fargo’s residents turned their attention to cleaning up debris in low-lying neighborhoods where more than a million sandbags held back the waters, with some taking a break for basketball.

“Last year I was not sleeping well. This year I am sleeping like a baby,” said Fargo resident Kevin Pladson, who last year counted on mounds of sandbags to keep the river away from his back deck. This year, the water isn’t close. “I’m relaxing and watching as much of the NCAA tournament as I can.”

The easygoing mood stood in stark contrast to last year, when floods along the north-flowing Red River sparked a last-minute frenzy of sandbagging that brought life to a halt and forced thousands to evacuate.

This year, residents in Fargo and neighboring Moorhead, Minn., were calm as the river completed a rise driven by the spring thaw of a thick snowpack: They walked their dogs, went shopping and worked out at the gym. At one mobile command center on the Minnesota side of the river, the focus early Saturday was on breakfast instead of levee breaks as sheriff’s deputies spent the morning cooking deer sausage.

“It’s been actually quite relaxing, compared to last year,” said Fargo resident Jim Papacek.

In Fargo and Moorhead, flooding has so far been limited mostly to areas along the Red River, where 3-feet-high piles of sandbags that stretch for miles have prevented the water from reaching homes and other buildings. Some yards, bike paths, a baseball diamond and golf course have flooded – but without major damage.

Still, rural areas outside of North Dakota’s largest city faced some significant flooding from the Red River’s smaller tributaries. Several farms were surrounded by water or had been turned into soggy fields. The nearby Sheyenne River was about a foot over flood stage at the town of Lisbon and was expected to stay at or near its crest level for about a week in most places.

“Anyplace affected by the Sheyenne still has a long ways to go in the flood fight,” said Cass County engineer Keith Berndt.


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