Volunteers and homeowners built sandbag dikes today in Fargo-Moorhead, preparing for a possible crest on the Red River this weekend.
Forecasters from the National Weather Service expect the water to rise to between 39 and 41 feet late this weekend. The 2009 record flood level was at 40.8 feet. Complicating the situation is an expected weekend storm, which could bring rain into the Red River valley.
Despite the threat, many residents say this year's flood fight is less stressful than the past two. City officials are worried that homeowners are not taking the flood threat seriously.
Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland said after winning two flood fights in two years, many residents are taking a more relaxed approach this year. That's making him nervous.
"The complacency, yeah it's there," Voxland said. "The reality is it shouldn't be. This river is just as dangerous right now in 2011 as it was in 2009, as it was in 1997. We've got to accept the fact it's a dangerous thing, and we've got to work to win."
Rod Rothlisberger, who lives in south Moorhead, said he's not at all worried about the possibility of weekend storms pushing the river higher.
This is the sixth time Rothlisberger has erected a dike behind his home to protect his property against the rising Red River. But this year will be much easier.
In 2009, volunteers stacked about 6,000 sandbags in this yard to hold back a record crest of nearly 41 feet. This year Rothlisberger is putting down about 600 sandbags, topping a new earthen levee he built in his back yard.
"I'm sort of the perennial optimist," said Rothlisberger, who teaches at Minnesota State University Moorhead. "We can add to this thing on the weekend if we have to."
Some of Rothlisberger's neighbors are among the more than 100 Moorhead residents who've sold their flood prone homes to the city. He's resisted a buyout so far, but is thinking about it.
"I guess I think another year. I don't think I can take a fourth year, probably," Rothlisberger said. "I like living here, though."
As a skid steer loader dumped sandbags in a neighbor's yard, volunteers moved to the next dike.
Down the block, Marcia Dahl helped her 86-year-old father build a sandbag dike. He's built up the back yard several times, but they still need about 2,000 sandbags. Dahl said she's done most of the work with her husband and a friend, as no volunteers showed up.
"They have not been around. I guess they haven't let out many schools," Dahl said. "The students have been the lifeblood the last few years. They have more energy than some of us older people."
Most Moorhead schools and colleges have not released students to sandbag this year. That's cut down significantly on the volunteer turnout.
Across the river in Fargo, several hundred students were let out of school Wednesday to work on the sandbag lines.
Fargo expects to use about 500,000 sandbags. Moorhead expects to deliver about 1.1 million bags by the end of the week. Fargo officials hope to finish building sandbag dikes on Friday. Moorhead officials expect to finish on Saturday.
Officials expect a much larger volunteer turnout Thursday and Friday as local businesses organize to help, and more college students head for the sandbag lines.