Let the waiting begin

Walking a dike
Capt. Adam Rasmussen of the Army Corps of Engineers walked the top of a dike in Fargo Saturday, March 28, 2009. Military personnel spent Saturday monitoring the dikes and looking for leaks or seepage.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Now that the Red River is at or near its crest, the anxiety in Fargo-Moorhead has shifted to the resilience of the levees -- will they keep the river from washing through the cities?

Fargo officials on Saturday urged the public not to let their guard down despite news that the Red River may already have crested. It was initially predicted to crest as high as 43 feet but the National Weather Service revised that, saying it may have hit a high of just under 41 feet Saturday.

Waters could still fluctuate up to a foot, though, and a snowstorm is expected to hit North Dakota early next week. Forecasters also are warning that wind from the storm could create waves, putting additional pressure on the levees that stand between the river and tens of thousands of homes.

The levees are strong and built to withstand a lot of pressure, but as the days go by, the potential for leaks and breaches grows bigger.

Looking for leaks
Capt. Adam Rasmussen of the Army Corps of Engineers checking a dike in Fargo Saturday. Military personnel spent Saturday monitoring the dikes and looking for leaks.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Along the Riverside Cemetery, south of Fargo, water seeps out from beneath the levees. While the river has dropped a few inches, it's still high, reaching halfway up the tall trees and covering most of the headstones and street signs. Streams of icy water run in rivets along the sandy street.

Army Corps engineer Adam Rasmussen says a little seepage is normal. It means the levees are doing their job.

"The sand is actually meant to reduce some of the pressure. It allows the water through it and that takes away some of the excess pressure," he says.

Rasmussen says making sure the levees and sand barriers don't shift too much is critical as the water recedes. "Most of what we just put up is very temporary and so we have to closely watch it as the days go on. It's not meant to be a permanent solution, it's meant to just put the water in its place for a short amount of time."

There are about 48 miles of dikes around Fargo, all relying on teams of officials and volunteers to keep them secure. Sgt Jared Morford and Specialist Derick Pownell with the South Dakota National Guard walk the levees near the cemetery checking for holes. They wear bright orange safety vests over their green fatigues.

"We're just making sure it's still intact," says Pownell.

Dikes hold back the water in a Fargo neighborhood
Dikes held back floodwaters in a neighborhood south of Fargo Saturday, March 28, 2009.
MPR PhotoJeffrey Thompson

If water starts leaking badly, the soldiers call the Guard's Quick Reaction Force, which is ready with extra sandbags.

Not far away near a canal called Drain 27, Roger and Mary Motschenbacher are ready for whatever comes.

Their waterfront home looks out over the canal, which could flood if the Red River spills over the tops of the sandbags. To be safe, they moved their belongings up from the basement.

But the Motschenbachers say they plan to stay unless they're ordered to evacuate. They've made it through hurricanes while living in Florida.

"Water is water, whether it's a hurricane or a flood. You just do what you can to protect it and if it goes, it goes. But I just figure that if God wants it to go and he's going to take it, that is his choice. I think he is going to spare us. I really do," says Roger Motschenbacher

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