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Height of relief: Red River tops out at 36.99 feet in Fargo-Moorhead

The Red River crested on Sunday - a quiet, uneventful ending to a weeklong flood fight in the Red River Valley.

The National Weather Service measured the river's peak at 36.99 feet, giving Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker the right to say "I'm right" on Sunday.

"I said it'd come under 37 (feet)," he said at a meeting that included Fargo officials, Gov. John Hoeven and U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. "Is that luck or what?"

It's also nearly 4 feet lower than last year's record Red River flooding, making this year the seventh-highest flood on record for Fargo-Moorhead.

The lower crest, as well as earlier preparation by both Fargo and Moorhead, resulted in little flood damage and a lot of relief among residents and officials by Sunday.

"It is interesting to me that 36.99 (feet) is a source of unbelievably good news," Dorgan said. "As you know, a 37-foot river crest is a significant amount of flooding in the Red River Valley. But I think the fact that there's a significant relief of 36.99 (feet) suggests the urgency you've faced in recent years."

In fact, the traditional day of rest was just that for many Fargo-Moorhead residents on Sunday - a day of reprieve a week after urgency first set in.

Residents walked the streets in droves, soaking up sunshine that seemed to evaporate both sidewalk puddles and flood fears.

"Lots of relief," south Moorhead resident Bob Johnson said as he took photos of the Red River.

Last year, he was too busy still stacking sandbags to rest, let alone document flooding, as the crest was still a week away at this time.

Now, this year, he had time Sunday to revel in the river's strength, snapping photos of treetops and lamp posts sticking out of the swollen river. His neighborhood may even host an anti-flood party in the coming days, he said.

Dozens of other residents joined him on Sunday, clutching cameras on Veterans Memorial Bridge on Main Avenue between Fargo and Moorhead.

"It's not as nerve-wracking," West Fargo resident Alison Laybourn said of this year's flooding.

In south Moorhead, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., commended the community's flood-fighting efforts as she surveyed flooding atop an earthen dike near Rivershore Drive.

"The work that has been done leading up to this ... has proven to work," she said. "This isn't a small thing even though it looks like a victory today."

Oakport officials reported Sunday that the river level there had nearly peaked at 36.98 feet. Unlike past years, the sewer system is "maintaining its integrity," reported Greg Anderson, the town board chair. If the river levels are safe, cleanup efforts could begin by next weekend. However, local officials urged residents to remain vigilant.

Both Moorhead and Fargo city officials will discontinue daily meetings and press conferences today. FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate will also arrive today to meet with local officials.

As rivers recede, permanent flood protection plans will ramp up.

"We hope it comes quickly," Fargo City Engineer Mark Bittner said. "We're getting tired of this."

Highest crests in Fargo-Moorhead

1. 40.84 feet, March 28, 2009

2. 40.10 feet, April 7, 1897

3. 39.57 feet, April 17, 1997

4. 37.80 feet, April 11, 1882

5. 37.34 feet, April 15, 1969

6. 37.13 feet, April 5, 2006

7. 36.99 feet, March 21, 2010

8. 36.69 feet, April 14, 2001

9. 35.39 feet, April 9, 1989

10. 34.93 feet, April 19, 1979