The Fine Art Of Sandbagging The city of Fargo, N.D. is beating back flood waters with thousands of volunteers moving millions of sandbags. Leon Schlafmann, Fargo's emergency services coordinator, talks about coordinating the effort — and how to build the perfect sandbag wall.
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The Fine Art Of Sandbagging

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The Fine Art Of Sandbagging

The Fine Art Of Sandbagging

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

Thousands of volunteers in Fargo have filled three million sandbags in the last week. That meant creating a virtual sandbagging factory. Leon Schlafmann ran that operation. He had to abandon old-school techniques for a more high-tech approach.

Mr. LEON SCHLAFMANN (Emergency Services Coordinator, Fargo, North Dakota): What we used to was grab a shovel, sit on a chair, fill the sandbag, tie it and throw it on a trailer. This time, we bought a large hopper that sand is conveyored into the top, and it comes down one of 12 chutes, and it basically can fill on an average about five to six thousand sandbags per hour. Well, we had three of those going.

LYDEN: As the Red River threatened to crest higher and higher, Schlafman knew he'd need a lot more bags.

Mr. SCHLAFMANN: We took over the Fargodome and called on a large volunteer force from the university and the high schools, and they came up with shovels and privately made sandbagging devices, and they went to work so that when you see these big dump trucks come in with sand and dump it onto the floor, the sand didn't stay on the floor but a few minutes, and it was gone. They were sandbagging machines.

LYDEN: Flatbed trucks rolled sacks out to armies of volunteers across the city. Relief professionals led the crews in the fine art of dike-building.

Mr. SCHLAFMANN: We wanted them twice as wide as we wanted high. So, if we're going to start on the bottom, we're going to go three bags wide, then we're going to go two bags next and one bag.

And as we go high, we need to go wide. So, we have to overlap them that way, too. We want to make sure that the sand isn't frozen so that we don't place rocks, and we just keep building like building blocks.

LYDEN: Floodwaters will subside eventually, and the Red River will drop. So, what happens to the millions of sandbags spread out over Fargo?

Mr. SCHLAFMANN: We get them out on the street, and the city comes and picks them up just like garbage. Then we take them back to our landfill, and we recycle. We don't reuse the bags, but being they've been contaminated, basically, what we do is recycle the plastic, and the sand gets recycled into concrete, fill sand for buildings, and we don't really waste anything.

LYDEN: Leon Schlafmann is the emergency management director in Fargo, North Dakota.

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