Red River Rises and Falls

by Ivy Chang | September 28, 2010

 Photos by Rising Sun Construction.

As erratic weather takes hold in the Upper Midwest, the Red River Valley continued its flooding beginning in Wahpeton, ND, and Breckinridge, MN. The north flowing river continued to rise during the week of March 22 and reached its highest level on Saturday, March 28, at 40.8 feet, or 22 feet above flood stage in Fargo.

This is the highest level ever in Fargo as residents, volunteers, and the military kept stacking sandbags higher and higher when new weather forecasts predicted more rain and, possibly, snow this coming week.

A dump truck deposits a load of clay around a city ball park.

In the flood of 1997, the Red River crested at 39.5 feet and in 1897, the river rose to 40.1 feet.

This year, the frozen ground and flooded tributaries to the Red River, such as the Wild Rice and Buffalo Rivers, contributed to rising water levels on the flat plains where water can’t penetrate the soil. Instead, it spreads everywhere.

The south end of the river melted first while the northern half is still frozen and prevents the water from flowing.

Cities Call on Volunteers

Residents and city officials in Fargo and Moorhead, MN, called for more volunteers to help fill and load sandbags and build dikes when the river continued to rise.

Many construction crews sent all of their equipment and employees to flooded sites to help build dikes with city-designated clay soil and deliver sandbags along the 10 miles of the Red River where sandbags were piled on top of each other.

Schools, from elementary through college, closed and administrators asked high school and college students to help at the Fargodome where tons of sand were delivered and sandbagging operations carried out 24 hours a day to keep up with the rising river. Other residents took care of keeping water out of their homes, when possible, and keeping streets open.

One of many dozers helped to build dikes around the Red River.

The Army Corps of Engineers, National Guard from North Dakota and Minnesota, and the Coast Guard were called to help build dikes and rescue people.

Troops Called, Residents Moved

Gov. John Hoeven of North Dakota and Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota went to the flooded cities and helped people fill sandbags and build dikes where they were needed. They called in more National Guard troops when the river continued to spread water and, on Saturday, as troops patrolled the river, a breach was found.

About a hundred people rushed to the site of the breach and continued to build up the sandbag barriers at 1 a.m.

Some residents required helicopters to lift them from their homes, surrounded by water, to safer grounds. Many residents gave up staying in their homes when water came through the basement, reached the main floor and was rising to the upper floors.

On Thursday, March 26, the weather turned colder which helped slow the current and decreased the water level. However, the flooded portion of the river spread to six miles wide and prompted city officials to call for evacuation of residents who lived within a few feet of the area.

Federal Agencies, Troops Monitor Evacuations

During the week, President Barack Obama monitored the floods and declared the Red River Valley a disaster area eligible for federal assistance. He met with senators from both states who apprised him of current information and the assistance they needed.

On Saturday, Fargo and Moorhead officials called for more evacuations in many areas of their cities as water continued to spread out of the river. Guard troops and local law enforcement patrolled the dikes along the evacuated homes and watched them to prevent vandalism as ordered by the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, D.C.

Water spread to many residential communities, including this one on the south side of Fargo.

By then, about 3 million sandbags had been filled and stacked around both cities.

Hospitals and nursing homes were the first to evacuate their patients to other cities in North Dakota and Minnesota, including the Twin Cities, where they will stay for now.

Road conditions change constantly in the area. Law enforcement is asking travelers to avoid traveling to Fargo and Moorhead to keep roads open for evacuation and flood relief.