FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Flatbed trucks escorted by police rolled into Ron Hartel’s south Fargo neighborhood Tuesday, dropping off sandbags to residents preparing for a third straight major flood.
Hartel said he has needed about 35,000 sandbags in each of the past two years to protect his home from the Red River. This year, he moved his deck and gazebo to reduce his burden to 10,000 bags.
“We had to make this easier,” Hartel said Tuesday, looking over his back yard already torn up by machinery hauling sandbags.
The National Weather Service predicted Tuesday that the river will crest at between 39 and 41 feet, with the higher figure including the possibility of a weekend storm. If there’s no significant precipitation, the weather service said the crest would likely be closer to 39.5 feet, which would be the second-highest flood on record.
Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker and other officials are confident the city is prepared to handle the high water.
“It shows how hard people have worked when you have a flood that’s going to be in the top five and you feel good about where you’re at,” Walaker said.
The record flood of 2009 forced thousands to evacuate, inundated about 100 homes and caused an estimated $100 million in damage. The river crested at 40.84 feet. Since then, Fargo and neighboring Moorhead, Minn., have bought out homes and built permanent levees.
Officials had been basing their flood-fighting plans on a weather service forecast that gave the river a 50 percent chance of nearing the record level. That was based primarily on fall and winter precipitation and soil moisture.
Fargo was confident enough in the updated figure to lower the planned height of its sandbag dikes from 42 to 41 feet. Most earthen levees are being built to 44 feet.
“It’s good news,” Walaker said. “Part of me is excited and euphoric, but of course we all know what can happen. If we have to add another foot, we have to add another foot.”
Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland said he fears people might be easing up because of the latest flood forecast. The city reported a light turnout on Tuesday when its volunteer center opened.
“It’s kind of a relaxed complacency,” Voxland said. “I’m a little bit concerned.”
Volunteers are scheduled to begin placing sandbags in Fargo neighborhoods Wednesday. It’s the fifth time that Hartel has been forced to sandbag his property since he built the house in 1990.
“We first sandbagged in 1997 and that was the one that really created a lot of stress. We did all our own sandbagging,” Hartel said. “Now, with the way the city is doing things, a lot of the stress and hard work has gone away.”
The gazebo, for now, is parked in his driveway.
“We spend a lot of time there in the summer, hiding from the mosquitoes and whatever,” he said, smiling. “There might be a party in there yet, by the end of the flood.”
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