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National Guard dropping 1-ton sandbags on eroding dam, Valley City concerned about rain

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National Guard dropping 1-ton sandbags on eroding dam, Valley City concerned about rain
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

CLAUSEN SPRINGS DAM, N.D. - The earthen dam three miles from the evacuated town of Kathryn began showing signs of erosion about 3 this morning, prompting quick response forces to fly night-time missions and drop 1-ton sandbags into the swelling waters.

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Lt. Col. Rick Smith, a public affairs officer for the North Dakota National Guard, said up to 60 of the large sandbags could be in place by the end of today.

The Guard, using Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters, dropped 16 into place Wednesday, and another 30 this morning.

Early this morning, Barnes County Sheriff Gene Bjerke said the dam appears to be holding its own and said the work is aimed at slowing the erosion to the earthen damn.

"As far as I know, the water level kinda maintained throughout the night," said Bjerke, adding the National Guard was using helicopters to strategically drop additional 1-ton sandbags today.

Downstream, the city of Kathryn remains evacuated and the town is safe for now. However, it faces serious flooding if the dam doesn't hold.

On Wednesday, the rapidly eroding dam forced the evacuation of the town of about 60.

Water spilling over the Clausen Springs Dam caused it to erode about 5 feet every 10 minutes, threatening the town and a few farmsteads below.

Officials had mere hours to implement a plan to stop the erosion and prevent water from swamping the town.

Kathryn residents responded quickly to a Code Red evacuation call that went out about 9 a.m. Wednesday. Most were gone within two hours.

Spring Creek flows from the dam at Clausen Springs Recreation Area and winds through Kathryn, emptying into the Sheyenne River.

Kathryn is about 17 miles south of Valley City.

In Valley City, Mayor Mary Lee Nielson said she received no calls overnight.

"No major problems during the night," Nielson said early this morning. "It's just kinda scary to look up at rain clouds in the sky."

Valley City received some rain, but Nielson said she hadn't heard how much.

The city's dikes appear to be holding against record floodwaters from the Sheyenne River, but Nielson remains concerned that precipitation could cause significant problems.

"It's terrible to save yourself from the river and flood from the inside out," she said.

The Sheyenne's level was 20.28 feet at 11 a.m., down from earlier in the day but still above the previous 20-foot record. It's expected slowly recede in the coming days.

Still, the city is bolstered by technical expertise from the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Guard, both of whom are on hand to help plug leaks and watch breaches.

"There's a lot of eyes on everything," said Nielson, adding the support strengthens city leaders confidence that they'll pull through the flood fight.

"I'm feeling as confident as you can be when you have emergency dikes and 20 feet of water in your town," Nielson said.

Still, she said residents who don't live near the record, and haven't evacuated, need to heed warnings to limit water use. Nielson said remaining residents need to refrain from washing clothes, running dishwashers and taking showers.

Valley City started its flood fight March 17, churning out 750,000 sandbags. The city of Fargo sent 35,000 sandbags there, and Nielson said the National Guard promised 200,000 more from Fargo to help in the fight.

The National Guard has about 400 soldiers concentrated in Valley City, and an additional 146 dispatched to Lisbon and Fort Ransom, Smith said this morning.

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