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Massive Fargo sandbagging effort hits snag, needs more volunteers

More than 100 volunteers showed up at "sandbag central," the Fargo utilities building at 2301 8th Ave. N., to begin sandbagging operations this morning.

FARGO - More than 100 volunteers are still needed at the sandbagging operation in downtown Fargo, where work began this morning on filling up to 1.5 million sandbags needed for the city's battle against flooding.

"Sandbag central" had only 290 of the 400 volunteers it needed, said Sara Lepp, volunteer center director for FirstLink, shortly before 3 p.m. The 11:30 a.m. NCAA men's basketball tournament game between North Dakota State and Kansas may have slowed volunteering. The Bison lost, 84-74.

Volunteers are being deployed in 3-hour and 4-hour shifts and are especially needed in the coming days for the midnight to 6 a.m. shifts, Lepp said.

Sandbag-filling operations will end at 8 p.m. today. Volunteers are asked to call FirstLink at (701) 476-4000. Because of limited parking around sandbag central, buses will shuttle volunteers to and from the Fargodome parking lot every half-hour.

Bagging ends at 8 p.m. today but will run round-the-clock starting at 8 a.m. Saturday. Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said that if fully staffed with volunteers, the sandbagging crews should be able to churn out as many as 300,000 bags a day.

The massive effort to fill and stack between 1.3 million and 1.5 million sandbags at the city's utilities building at 2301 8th Ave. N. was also slowed by the breakdown of one of the two $38,000 "octupus" bag-filling machines, said Bruce Grubb, Fargo's enterprise director. A dumping mechanism that feeds a conveyor belt malfunctioned about noon and should be up and running by about 3 p.m., Grubb said.

Bagging began Friday at 8 a.m. with nearly 100 volunteers, many of them members of the Fargo South baseball team. The team members showed up before 8:30 a.m. at the utilities building to help Fargo prepare for a Red River crest that could exceed the flood level of 1997.

Fargo South baseball coach Donn Bryant said his team was missing practice to help fill sandbags this morning.

"This is our practice," he said.

Moorhead is also gearing up for the flood battle, announcing Thursday that it will provide residents with free sand and sandbags.

Moorhead plans to set up 11 sandbag stations. Stations expected to be up and running this afternoon are at Rivershore Drive North and Miller Drive, 2600 Fairway Drive N., Ninth Street North and Ninth Avenue, Elm Street South and Sixth Avenue, River Drive South and 12th Avenue, River Drive South and 14th Avenue, Rivershore Drive South and Brookdale Road, Rivershore drive South and 32nd Avenue, Fifth Street South and 37th Avenue, and Rivershore Drive South and 37th Avenue.

The sites will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

In addition, a volunteer center will operate Saturday at Nemzek Hall on the campus of Minneseota State University Moorhead.