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Officials remain optimistic about flood battle as long as volunteers keep turning out

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FARGO - A desperate plea for volunteers was echoed across the Fargo-Moorhead area today - with Fargo and Moorhead making repeated calls for help. Other towns like Oxbow, Briarwood and subdivisions within Cass and Clay counties said they could still use help.

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A significant turnout by volunteers cranked out 450,000 sand-bags in the 24 hours ending early this morning, boosting confidence of city, county and state officials that the city will hold back the Red River's rising floodwaters.

However, both Fargo and Moorhead made multiple calls for volunteers, and numerous flood-related announcements have been made, including requests for people to only use 9-1-1 for emergencies.

In addition, the number of North Dakota Army and Air National Guard members dedicated to the flood fight had been increased to about 800 on the Fargo side, and hundreds more are working on the Minnesota side of the Red River.

The river at Fargo surpassed major flood stage of 30 feet at about 8 a.m. and had risen another 3 inches by 9:15 a.m. The National Weather Service maintained its prediction that the Red River will crest at 39 to 41 feet by Friday. The service's Web site shows the river hitting 40 feet early Saturday.

A flurry of activity helped button up the city and many of its subdivisions, and concentrated efforts today turn to specific areas of concern.

Officials who were gathered for a morning briefing broke into applause when Fargo Enterprise Director Bruce Grubb said volunteers had churned out 450,000 sandbags in about a day, surpassing the goal of 300,000 per day.

"Now, we need to do that for at least a couple more days," he said, adding sandbag production will continue through at least Saturday to build up reserves.

"We really appreciate it and keep turning out," Gov. John Hoeven said of the massive volunteer turnout Monday.

A combination of North Dakota National Guard soldiers, contractors, public employees and volunteers plan to address south Fargo areas today near Rose Coulee, South River Road, 32nd to 40th avenues south.

On the city's north side, workers will build dikes at 37th Avenue North and Kandi Lane by Trollwood Park.

"We're diking where we've never diked before," Fargo City Engineer Mark Bittner said.

In addition, the city is looking at building contingency levees near City Hall, the Oak Grove neighborhood, at South River Road to protect the water plant, River Drive south of 32nd Avenue South to about 40th Avenue South, and along Rose Creek south of 40th Avenue, Bittner said.

"As we get the sandbags done, we'll have to make an inspection of those backline defenses and make sure we're comfortable with them or uncomfortable with them, and then we can decide how we want to proceed," he said.

Volunteers bolstered Fargo's chances of beating this spring's flood, but officials again called for more people to help.

"We had a great day yesterday," Mayor Dennis Walaker said. "The good news this morning is the sun is shining."

About 660 North Dakota National Guard soldiers and airmen are aiding the effort, and hundreds more from Minnesota are doing the same on the east side of the river.

Walaker and others praised volunteers, especially the turnout by high school and college students, and thanked those who traveled to help from areas of North Dakota and Minnesota.

"Anyone wondering about the future of our nation, look at these young people and the job they have done," said U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D.

Officials were encouraged that the Red River at Wahpeton, N.D., appeared headed for a crest of about 18 feet, which would be almost 1½ feet lower than the 1997 crest.

National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Riddle said the river hadn't officially crested at Wahpeton, but from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. it barely rose from 17.49 feet to 17.50 feet. South of Wahpeton, the Bois de Sioux River near Dorn, Minn., and the Rabbit River near Campbell, Minn., both crested overnight, he said.

"It's really slowing down, and it's pretty much about to (crest)," he said of the Red at Wahpeton. "It may not officially stop rising until overnight or early Wednesday morning."

Still a major concern for Fargo, Riddle said, is water from the Wild Rice River at Abercrombie, which was at 26.5 feet at 8:15 a.m. - 8½ feet over flood stage - and is projected to hit a record 29 feet by Thursday morning.

"That water does have to get into the Red eventually," he said.

Cass County Engineer Keith Berndt said levee-building operations between the Wild Rice River and south Fargo have gone well, and the county hopes to finish dikes today to protect rural subdivisions in the 76th Avenue South area.

He reported that sand-bagging efforts continue to operate in the area to save homes from both overland flooding and the Wild Rice and Red rivers.

Officials said they hope to hear about a presidential disaster declaration today. Gov. John Hoeven said North Dakota has asked for an expedited declaration with 90 percent federal reimbursement for costs. Typically, such declarations don't come until after a disaster, he said.

The mood of leaders remained optimistic as they urged residents to keep up their efforts. Walaker and City Commissioner Tim Mahoney said that, contrary to a Salvation Army official's statement Monday that "fear is setting in," they saw none.

"We don't see any fear," Walaker said. "We just see people working very hard."

"It is our firm belief that we will take on this challenge and we will beat this challenge, and we will work as hard as we can do to do that, and I don't see anybody giving up," Mahoney said.

Fargo Police Chief Keith Ternes asked motorists to yield to truck drivers who are transporting sandbags, and also to slow down to avoid sandbags that have fallen off trucks into the roadway. Some roads are becoming slippery from dirt and sand being hauled.

Ternes also asked residents with non-emergency questions not to call 911.

Mahoney said there is an organized effort to fight the flood, and asked residents to be patient. He said those who still need sand to protect their homes will receive it.

Crews were finishing filling Hesco portable floodwalls with sand around Drain 27 in the Prairie Rose area and Fargo's Timberline and El Zagal areas, and another wall was being put up along Fifth Street South on the north and south sides of I-94, Fargo Public Works Operations Manager Al Weigel said. About five more miles of Hesco walls were scheduled to arrive today from Louisiana.

"It's really a quick way of putting up a wall, and it's worked well," Mahoney said.

Sandbagging was about 60 percent complete in Rose Creek and 40 percent complete in River Drive, and volunteers will be directed today to Oak Creek, Meadow Creek and Copperfield Court, City Administrator Pat Zavoral said.

"So our focus is still south Fargo," he said.

The city also planned to begin constructing a flood closure on University Drive from Rose Creek to 52nd Avenue South, Bittner said.

About 700 to 800 students from Grand Forks and Hatton were expected to arrive in Fargo today to help with sandbagging, Zavoral said. North Dakota State University had 3,200 volunteers come through its volunteer center so far, and classes will remain canceled until further notice, an NDSU official said.

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