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Wind and snow worry Red River residents

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Guard members inspect a levee
Three members of the North Dakota National Guard inspect a levee along the flooded Red River March 30, 2009 near Fargo.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

(AP) -  Strengthening wind blew heavy, wet snow around the Fargo-Moorhead area Tuesday, adding to the strain on residents' spirits and on the patchwork system of sandbag levees protecting them from the bloated Red River.

      However, there were no reports of problems with leaks or with wind-driven waves battering the dikes Tuesday morning.

Firefighters in Moorhead took a break
Firefighters from Carlton took a break to build a snowman in the front yard of Bob and Lucinda Swensons south Moorhead home Monday evening.
MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson

      The blizzard that walloped North Dakota and other parts of the northern Plains on Monday into Tuesday morning brought almost six inches of snow and powerful, gusting wind that threatened to whip up waves that would pound the levees.

      "They say it's not going to affect the level of the river, but it just makes everything miserable. People here are expecting anything now," Dick Schafer said Monday as he scraped ice off his driveway while heavy, wet snowflakes fell.

      The wind was blowing out of the northeast at 22 to 29 mph around 9 a.m. An additional 7 to 14 inches of snow was possible.

      U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Frank Worley said waves were only about 1 to 2 inches high.

      "Wave action right now looks pretty small," Worley said. "The wind is blowing, the snow is blowing, but we're not looking at 1-foot waves or anything like that. ... The good news is (the river) has gone down, so the effect will be minimized."

Snowstorm in the Red River valley
A spring snowstorm is expected to dump nearly a foot of new snow in the Fargo-Moorhead area by tonight, adding to concerns about the Red River flooding.
MPR Photo/Stephanie Hemphill

      Engineers had scrambled Monday to shore up the dikes to make sure they could withstand waves, with National Guard members placing sheets of plastic over the levees to stem erosion. Worley said everything appeared to be holding Tuesday.

      As the heavy, wet snow fell during the night, trucks with snow plows rolled through Fargo.

      "I lived in North Dakota all my life. After a while, you just get tired of it," said Ryan Such, 26, operating a pickup truck equipped with a plow. He had been out since 2 a.m. His house sits next to dikes in south Fargo.

      People were advised against driving. 

"The conditions are treacherous. Please, please stay off the roads," said Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney.

Putting plastic on the dike
National Guard troops works against the wind to cover a dike in Fargo, N.D., to prevent it from eroding.
MPR Photo/Tom Robertson

The river had fallen to a shade over 38 feet by midday Tuesday, more than 2 feet below its peak, and the National Weather Service issued a new forecast that called for it to hit 36 feet by Thursday morning. That was the territory city officials said would ease immediate flood fears.

The weather service has said the river may have a second dangerous crest in mid-April, and Mayor Dennis Walaker said that's what the city is most worried about.

      "We would like to have this winter end as soon as possible," he said.

      The dropping water level prompted officials in Moorhead to lift evacuations in two parts of the city, but a voluntary evacuation remained in effect for part of south Moorhead, where at least five houses were flooded.

      Cold weather has been helping the situation because ice and snow that normally would be melting and feeding the river have stayed frozen. 

Mike Mattson shovels his driveway in Fargo
Mike Mattson shovels his driveway as snow falls March 30,2009 in Fargo, North Dakota. Forecasters were expecting 14 inches of snow and blustery conditions that could worsen flooding in the area.
Daniel Barry/Getty Images

But forecasters said the latest snowfall would contribute to an increase in river levels down the road, and Tuesday morning's temperature in Fargo was around 30 degrees.

      Officials in Fargo and Moorhead say they have limited the damage to a small number of homes, but they have had to rescue about 300 people by boat, and several outlying rural areas have seen significant flooding.

      Authorities also warned people to stay away from the dangerous river. Late Monday, a man was arrested for driving a snowmobile on a dike.


      Associated Press writers Nate Jenkins in Fargo, Dale Wetzel in Bismarck, Amy Forliti in Minneapolis, and Dan Sewell and Matthew Brown in Fargo contributed to this report.

                   (Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)