FARGO, N.D. (AP) -- Homeowners along the Red River here and in neighboring Moorhead, Minn., hurried to build sandbag dikes Tuesday after the National Weather Service said a rainstorm could raise the river up to 2 feet higher than expected.
"I hope they're being overly cautious," Monica Kuklenski said, standing by piles of sandbags waiting to be placed between her Moorhead home and the river. "But you don't dare risk it, because you've got to be ready."
The weather service said Tuesday that the Red will crest between 37 feet and 38 feet Monday or Tuesday in Fargo, and between 48 feet and 50 feet next Wednesday or Thursday in Grand Forks. The forecast was based on a storm, expected Wednesday, that could drop up to an inch-and-a-half of rain on already saturated fields.
Grand Forks engineers decided to raise dikes from 52 to 54 feet, just shy of the 54.35 level at which the Red swamped the city four years ago. The weather service had been forecasting a crest of 46 feet in Grand Forks. Flood stage is 28 feet.
Fargo crews will raise dikes to 38.5 feet. They had been building to 37 feet, expecting a crest of 36 feet later this week. Flood stage is 17 feet.
Concordia College in Moorhead canceled Wednesday classes, and President Thomas Thomsen encouraged students, faculty and staff to volunteer in the flood fight. North Dakota State in Fargo is not canceling classes, but the university is running shuttle buses from campus to the main volunteer center downtown.
There was better news to the south. The river hovered around 16.5 feet in Wahpeton and Breckenridge, Minn., where officials said they had finished raising dikes to 22 feet. Flood stage in Wahpeton is 10 feet.
The weather service did not raise crest projections for those cities, although it said the crest would come Sunday, two days later than first projected.
The Red River is the border between Minnesota and North Dakota and routinely spills its banks in springtime. But flooding is worse this year because fall rains saturated the flat valley's soil before it froze last winter, and heavy rains last weekend melted snow quickly.
With the frozen ground unable to absorb more moisture, the rain ran off quickly, swelled tributaries and boosted flood projections.
Grand Forks engineer Al Grasser said it likely would take at least five days to finish raising dikes there, and crews might have a difficult time. The river rose past 44 feet Tuesday evening.
"With all the warm weather and rain, the frost has gone out of the dikes, and they will be tough to raise," he said.
In Fargo, Mayor Bruce Furness said a round-the-clock volunteer effort would be launched and the city would remake its main garbage facility into "Sandbag Central," which put out 3.5 million sandbags in 1997.
The mayor said this year's effort, while serious, would be much smaller than four years ago, thanks to flood buyouts and higher permanent dikes. Fargo Public Works Operations Manager Dennis Walaker said there is enough time to protect the city before the expected crest.
Most sandbags would go to five flood-prone areas along the river, where about 20 homes are at risk, Furness said. The city bought and demolished 82 homes that flooded in those neighborhoods four years ago.
Fargo and Moorhead saw a record crest of 39.72 feet that year. The river stood at 32 feet Tuesday evening.
Before the flood forecast was raised, "I said it wasn't critical," Furness said Tuesday. "It's getting closer to critical."
Breckenridge Mayor Cliff Barth said his city faces greater problems than Wahpeton because it is bisected by the Ottertail River, which joins with the Bois de Sioux to form the Red between the cities.
More riverbanks mean more areas vulnerable to flooding, Barth said.
"Wahpeton has one riverbank," Barth said. "We have several."
North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven toured dikes in Wahpeton on Tuesday and said he will not ask the Federal Emergency Management Agency for assistance unless the area needs recovery help.
"Right now we're going to work to see if we can't keep (the river) within the dike," Hoeven said.
Moorhead City Manager Jim Antonen said 95 homes will need to be protected against a 38-foot crest, and the city will extend a permanent dike built after the 1997 flood.
Jim Housemann owns one of those homes. His walkout basement usually looks out on 100 yards of lawn stretching to the river, but on Tuesday he had less than 20 yards. He and neighbor Gary Torgerson started building a sandbag wall that will be at least 5 feet high.
Four years ago, Housemann manned a pump behind a similar dike around the clock. He said surviving that flood fight doesn't make him feel "cocky ... but at least you figure you've been here before."
Meanwhile, Granite Falls, Minn., girded Tuesday for another possible natural disaster less than eight months after being hit by a tornado and nearly four years after previous flooding.
With rain and thunderstorms lurking in the forecast, residents and volunteers rushed to build temporary dikes and fill thousands of sandbags as the city braced for flooding on the Minnesota River.
Granite Falls Mayor Dave Smiglewski said Tuesday night he thought the preparations would be enough.
"Our goal is right now: Save people's houses, save people's things, and make sure that everybody is safe," he said. "I'm optimistic that we can do that. I feel very good that we can meet that."
He said about 1,000 volunteers filled and stacked sandbags Tuesday.
Officials in Crookston, Minn., were breathing a little easier after the Red Lake River fell 5 feet from Monday to Tuesday. The river had been 11 feet above flood stage, and one-third of the city was voluntarily evacuated as a state of emergency was declared.
Officials were waiting to see how much rain would fall from a storm system headed toward the region before shutting down an emergency operations center in Crookston.
In Benton County, in central Minnesota, the Little Rock Lake fell about a foot from Monday to Tuesday afternoon, sparing about 100 homes. To the southwest, crews were reinforcing levees at Montevideo and Granite Falls along the Minnesota River.
An area of about 40 homes on the west side of Montevideo faced the possibility of an evacuation on Tuesday.
At St. Paul, Minn., the downtown Holman Field airport was expected to shut down Wednesday as water rises on the Mississippi. Up to 200 small planes are based at the riverside field, which was closed for a month during the 1997 floods.
The Minnesota National Guard was moving from its quarters at St. Paul's downtown airport to Guard operations at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Twenty-five guard members were sandbagging the downtown airport against the Mississippi River, which runs alongside.
Further to the east, where the St. Croix River separates Wisconsin from Minnesota, a historic lift bridge at Stillwater was to be closed Tuesday evening because of high water.
Elsewhere, flooding tributaries caused trouble in the valley as the Red rose.
Outside Wahpeton, in Richland County, a half-dozen farmsteads were surrounded by water Tuesday, isolating families that had decided to stay, emergency services manager Denise Hendrickson said. Two families had been evacuated Monday.
Fifteen farmsteads south of Breckenridge were ringed with dikes.
Sandbagging continued in Cass County north of Fargo, where about 10 homes needed dikes to protect against the Sheyenne River, emergency manager Greg McDonald said.
On the Net:
Weather Service Grand Forks: http://www.crh.noaa.gov/fgf
U.S. Geological Survey: http://nd.water.usgs.gov
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