Creeping closer: Red River in Fargo eclipses 2010 crest; projected to hit 39 to 40 feet Sunday
MOORHEAD - Fargo's flood fight largely wrapped up Thursday, and Moorhead officials hope final sandbags will be placed today as the Red River swells toward an expected crest of between 39 and 40 feet sometime on Sunday.
The National Weather Service on Thursday narrowed the projected crest range for the Red River at Fargo-Moorhead to 39 to 40 feet, down from 39 to 41 feet.
Barring heavy rain today or early Saturday, the crest is still likely to be 39.5 feet, said weather service spokesman Greg Gust.
He said up to 1½ inches of precipitation is likely late Saturday or Sunday, which will take time to reach the river. Its impact on the crest would likely be minimal, perhaps pushing it to 40 feet, Gust said.
A 39.5-foot crest would be the third highest in the Fargo-Moorhead area, behind 2009's 40.84 feet and 1997's 39.72 feet.
As of 10:15 p.m. Thursday, the river had exceeded last year's mark of 36.99 feet with a level of 37.02 feet.
High school and college students are playing a major role in the flood battle, and Moorhead expects additional help today when Moorhead High buses students to neighborhoods needing assistance.
About 180 Moorhead ninth-graders who helped sandbag Wednesday and Thursday as part of a class will pitch in again today.
School officials said the district worked with state officials to reschedule Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment testing that was set for Tuesday through Thursday of next week.
The testing will now be April 19-21.
Lisa Mercil, who lives near the river at 37th Avenue South, said it brought tears to her eyes when she saw students walking up her driveway to help sandbag in her neighborhood Wednesday.
Thanks to those students and volunteers who pitched in Thursday, Mercil and her neighbors expected they would finish dike building by Thursday night.
Moorhead residents are building dikes to 42 feet.
Rod Wiger, zone leader for Moorhead's Zone 6 flood-fighting zone, predicted dike building between Interstate 94 and roughly 36th Avenue South would be 95 percent complete by the start of the day today.
He said the progress was due in large part to help from jail inmates from Otter Tail County, Minn., as well as Moorhead ninth-graders and a group of students from Fargo Oak Grove Lutheran School.
"They're very enthusiastic," Wiger said of the students.
At least a dozen school buses filled with hundreds of Fargo and West Fargo students flooded the Woodcrest neighborhood in Fargo Thursday.
The area is just north of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Julie and Craig Johnson's home along Willow Road is protected to about 39 feet without sandbags, but students from Fargo North helped stack bags to 41 feet.
"Every one of them has a smile on their face," Julie said.
Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said the city would decide sometime today whether homeowners should add another foot depending on the crest forecast.
The Red was rising quickly in Dan Johnson's Woodcrest Drive yard, already swallowing all but the backboard of a basketball hoop behind his home.
"It's come up faster than I've ever seen," he said.
Johnson said he knew Thursday morning that sandbag stacking needed to start right away, but with plenty of city preparation and volunteer turnout, he was feeling confident.
"I'm not really too worried. I was a lot more worried two years ago when it was chaos," he said.
Hundreds of students from Oak Grove Lutheran School bolstered neighboring homes' levees along Fargo's South Terrace as rain came down Thursday morning.
It was the second day of sandbagging for the high school and middle school students, said Principal Beverly Bjertness.
"They're sore, but I think they look forward to it," Bjertness said.
Classes will move off campus next week as the water rises closer to the school, which is well-protected this year, she said.
Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer contributed to this story.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555