City officials in Fargo and Moorhead put flood preparation efforts in high gear on Monday after the National Weather Service predicted the Red River would crest on Saturday.
The predicted crest -- between 37 and 39 feet -- is about 3 feet lower than last year's all-time record. Nevertheless, officials said they are preparing for the worst.
Both cities started sandbagging last week, but are now calling for even more volunteers to quicken the pace. The goal is to have more than 1.5 million sandbags between the two cities.
Fargo Deputy Mayor Tim Mahoney said even if the water is lower than last year, the cities must be vigilant.
"This could reach the top five floods we've ever had. We had the top flood last year. This could be one of the top five, so depending on what the rain, the weather and everything does, we're going to be prepared," Mahoney said.
Both Fargo and Moorhead began constructing temporary levees on Monday. Officials are urging residents to give the construction vehicles plenty of room as they make their way through the city streets.
"Everybody has to understand, this is for real. No matter how we procrastinated or wished this wasn't going to happen, it happened. It's going to happen," Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said.
Last year, the Red River hit its crest on March 28, the earliest crest ever. If the predictions hold for a crest this Saturday, it would be a week earlier than last year.
But the weather could change the predictions. National Weather Service meteorologist Greg Gust said cooler temperatures were expected this week, but he said temperatures would be warmer than normal because of fog and cloud cover.
"Cooler temperatures would slow and reduce the overall crest. Warmer temperatures might accelerate and bump that up a bit," Gust said.
In addition, the Wild Rice River that flows into the Red River upstream at Breckenridge-Wahpeton won't crest until later, and could keep the Red River high for a while.
In Moorhead, all non-essential city employees were freed up from their normal duties to help fill sandbags. City survey crews planned to check certain sites to tell residents how high sandbag levees will need to be.
Moorhead City Manager Michael Redlinger said that while things can always get worse, city infrastructure currently isn't threatened. Improvements since last year will also help minimize the disruption, Redlinger said.
"The public should have a great deal of confidence that they'll be able to stay in homes, and only in those situations of a dike breach or a leak would they be asked to leave," Redlinger said.
Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist said overland flooding is already affecting rural areas, with more than 30 roads covered by water or washed out. Bergquist also warned that anyone who drives around a barricade and gets stuck will be charged for their rescue.
Flooded roads were also reported in nearby Wilkin and Mahnomen counties, including Highway 75 near Kent.
In Fargo, Walaker urged people to join the sandbagging effort with an eye toward celebrating a successful flood fight later.
"We've never gone through this effort and been successful without the use of volunteers," he said. "Hopefully on Saturday it's time for the champagne and the lighting (of) the cigars, but it's not time today."
(MPR reporter Elizabeth Dunbar contributed to this report.)
Major Fargo-Moorhead flood crests through history:
--1969: April 15
--1989: April 9
--1997: April 17
--2001: April 14
--2006: April 5
--2009: March 28