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Flood fight picks up as Red River rises

City of Fargo worker Jim Zavoral loads pallets of sandbags onto a truck. The bags will later be hauled to a heated storage unit in Fargo. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

A sense of urgency seemed to be setting in for Fargo-Moorhead flood fighters Saturday as the Red River reached flood stage 36 hours sooner than the National Weather Service had predicted on Friday.

"People are starting to take note," Bruce Grubb, Fargo's enterprise director, said Saturday night at the city's garbage utility building, currently dubbed Sandbag Central.

More than 400 volunteers turned out there Saturday to fill 81,000 sandbags, bringing the total to 740,000 after two weeks of 12-hour shifts.

"That million-bag goal's certainly within our sights next week," Grubb said.

Moorhead had at least 100 volunteers, who filled 31,200 sandbags Saturday.

"I wouldn't say people are getting crazy, but it's going to start showing," said Dave Harles, forestry crew chief in Moorhead.

As of 8:15 p.m. Saturday, the Red River at Fargo was at 20.25 feet. Flood stage is 18 feet.

By this upcoming Saturday, the Red is predicted to reach 33.4 feet, more than 3 feet above major flood stage.

Saturday's predictions showed the river hitting that 30-foot mark at about 6 a.m. Thursday. That's about 5 feet higher than the National Weather Service had forecast Friday.

Comments made at a Saturday morning meeting of Fargo city leaders reflected the river's accelerated rise. "We're going into full flood-fighting mode here," said City Administrator Pat Zavoral.

Sara Lepp, volunteer center director with FirstLink, said she isn't sure if it's urgency or incentive programs like Denny's Bucks for Bags, but "whatever it is, we've seen more volunteers each day that we've gone on."

This Saturday's turnout of just over 400 was up slightly from March 6, when about 375 people volunteered. But weekday volunteer numbers were up substantially from the first week of sandbagging, Lepp said. For example, 461 people volunteered on Friday. The week before, weekday numbers hovered around 200.

One thing volunteer coordinators have been discussing is the effect local college breaks will have on sandbagging efforts.

North Dakota State University and Minnesota State University Moorhead are both on spring break this week. Concordia College is still in session.

Lepp said she isn't sure how many will be leaving town. She hopes that those who stay will volunteer.

"Hopefully turnout will pick up," she said. "Time will tell."

"Those that can't go to the warm sand, we've got a lot of cool sand here for them," Grubb said.

Fargo's sandbagging site will be closed today, and is planned to continue from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Moorhead's sandbagging site at 700 15th Ave. N. will be open from noon to 7 p.m. today and from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Jon Gilley of Absaraka, N.D., helped fill sandbags by hand Saturday evening at the Fargo site. His family came to town because his son was helping park cars for the Bon Jovi concert at the Fargodome.

He volunteered last year as well, even though the flood doesn't directly affect his family.

"We feel the need to help our community," Gilley said. "It's coming."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556