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Red River Still Above Flood Stage

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Red River Still Above Flood Stage

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Red River Still Above Flood Stage

Red River Still Above Flood Stage

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Officials continue to monitor water levels along the Red River, which separates North Dakota from Minnesota. The river has stopped rising for now. However, it is still above flood stage and is expected to remain dangerously high for a week.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

After surging to record levels around the city of Fargo, the Red River that separates North Dakota from Minnesota is making a slow retreat. The question now is, can levees protect against new bad weather to come. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY: Typically, the Red River flows at about four miles per hour, but now it's much faster. Take a listen.

(Soundbite of water rushing)

That rush of water is about three times faster than the river's normal flow, and it has officials here concerned. North Dakota Governor John Hoeven says even if the river is receding, the sustained pressure of the flood waters could erode vulnerable dikes.

Governor JOHN HOEVEN (Republican, North Dakota): We feel more encouraged, but we have to continue the effort. Right here, it's making sure we maintain the flood protection.

CORLEY: Especially, says Hoeven, while the Red River is still many feet over its 18-foot flood stage. The helicopters that flew overhead yesterday while the governor stood on a thick, clay dike in Fargo's River Vili neighborhood are part of that protection. National Guard Major General David Sprynczynatyk says the guard used the helicopters to lower huge, one-ton sand balloons in strategic locations in the Red River's swift current, including the area near a Lutheran school which was flooded after the river breached a dike.

Major General DAVID SPRYNCZYNATYK (United States National Guard): So it is critical that we're able to do this. It's just another resource, another tool available to us, that allows us to quickly respond to a situation.

CORLEY: In River Vili, residents come back during the day to check on their homes. This is one of the areas where Fargo officials had ordered a mandatory evacuation. Courtney Playfin(ph) says sump pumps keep his house dry - that, along with the massive dike surrounding the houses here. He likes the idea of the super sandbags, but he agrees with city officials who say residents in the Fargo-Moorhead area still can't rest easy.

Mr. COURTNEY PLAYFIN (River Vili resident): This river, particularly, is way too unpredictable. You could have a crest. You could have a double crest. You're going to have snow melt down south that's going to feed the tributaries that come into the Red River. So we're - you know, those of us that live on it, we're fully expecting it to come back up again.

CORLEY: That's a sentiment that many share here, and why they continue to fight the possibility of more flooding.

CORLEY: Hundreds of people in Fargo-Moorhead area showed up yesterday at the Fargo Dome to fill sandbags.

Mr. JEROME MILLER (In charge of sandbagging): We're putting out, here, about 12,000 sandbags an hour.

CORLEY: Jerome Miller was running the 24-hour, round-the-clock operation.

Mr. MILLER: We got in a street sweeper to keep the dust down. We've got the air reversed. And the people are so willing.

CORLEY: The arena was full of mounds of sand, bags, pallets and trucks ferrying out sandbags being filled by hundreds of volunteers. Lee Vigilant, a professor at Minnesota State University of Moorhead, was stacking sandbags on pallets, working alongside a number of his students.

Professor LEE VIGILANT (Minnesota State University of Moorhead): Half of the Moorehead side was evacuated on Thursday. And I live about a mile away from the evacuated section. So yeah, so it's personal, you know. But it's also to do my civic duty.

CORLEY: Eleven-year-old Matthew Bookhause(ph) urged his father to come to the Fargo dome.

Mr. MATTHEW BOOKHAUSE (Sandbag volunteer): School's out. They're using the gyms for evacuation places. So I've got nothing to do.

CORLEY: His father, Bill Bookhause, says he's met so many people from other places who've come to help.

Mr. BILL BOOKHAUSE (Sandbag volunteer): Here I'm only 20 miles away. I'd be ashamed not to be here.

CORLEY: Fargo officials say it's this sort of human coordination, along with contingency dikes and high-level alerts, that's made the fight against the Red River successful. It's a fight they say must continue until the Red River drops well below the record flood levels it set.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Fargo.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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