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Residents Relieved As Red River Recedes

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A massive effort to fight potential flooding with millions of sandbags in the area of Fargo, N.D., appears to have paid off.


The Red River delivered disastrous floods last year to Fargo, North Dakota and Moorhead, Minnesota. This year, the flood was a much different experience. The Red River crested at just under 37 feet yesterday, and that was a critical four feet less than last year's record crest. Tom Robertson of Minnesota Public Radio reports.

TOM ROBERTSON: For most of last week, volunteers in Fargo and Moorhead scrambled to stack up hundreds of thousands of sandbags. Unseasonably warm weather was melting snow fast along the north-flowing river, putting towns in flood-fighting mode earlier than ever before. That got lots of residents nervous, since last year's record flood forced thousands to evacuate and caused an estimated $100 million in damage.

The swollen river is only about 30 feet from Mark Ulliman's back deck in Moorhead, but Ulliman didn't seem too concerned yesterday as his family was getting ready to go to church. He says fighting last year's flood was miserable. Rising water was interspersed with freezing temperatures and a blizzard. Ulliman's basement flooded. He says the neighborhood streets were like a combat zone.

But on Sunday, the sun was shining, kids were playing in their yards, and people were out jogging or walking the dog.

Mr. MARK ULLIMAN: I was amazed at how quiet it was around. There was a couple of days of scrambling, but the trucks got the sandbags in and we didn't have the congestion on the roads that we had last year - just not the anxiety and stress that we had last year.

ROBERTSON: Fargo and Moorhead were also much better prepared for flooding this year. The cities began planning months ago and had thousands of filled sandbags stock piled.

The Red River is expected to drop quickly and steadily this week, though National Guard troops will remain available to respond to potential breaches. Minnesota National Guard Sergeant Brent Steinmetz(ph) has been in charge of a quick reaction force since last Friday. He says his team hasn't been called out once.

Sergeant BRENT STEINMETZ (Minnesota National Guard) Not only is the flood waters not seeming as high and as fast, but it also seems like the city is much, much more prepared from what they learned last year.

ROBERTSON: While residents here may be breathing a sigh of relief, there's still widespread overland flooding in rural parts of the Red River Valley. Many rural roads and farm fields could remain covered with water for much of this week, even as water from the Red River recedes.

For NPR news, I'm Tom Robertson in Moorhead, Minnesota.

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Correction March 22, 2010

Earlier editions of this story incorrectly placed Fargo in North Carolina.



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