LIANE HANSEN, Host:
Fears of the Red River causing a catastrophic flood in North Dakota and Minnesota have eased somewhat. After rising to its highest level in more than a century, the ice-laden river receded this weekend. Even so, officials on both sides of the river say it's much too early to do any celebrating. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.
CHERYL CORLEY: Watch and respond - that's what officials in Fargo and neighboring Moorhead say must happen as the level of the Red River fluctuates.
DENNIS WALAKER: We're still on high alert.
CORLEY: Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker says changes in weather and the flow of water from tributaries could affect the height of the Red River. He expects floodwaters will remain dangerously high for at least another week. So the city is not backing off its efforts to fight the river. Part of that diligence, says Fargo City Administrator Pat Zavoral, may soon include having National Guard troops drop sandbag balloons by helicopter in areas where dikes may be eroding.
PAT ZAVORAL: Since the Guard has these large balloons and some areas are difficult to get at in terms of bringing sandbags in 'cause we'd have to haul them over three, four blocks, the idea is to airlift them in and not drop them from 10,000 feet, but gently place them in the water.
CORLEY: Despite its threat, and maybe even because of it, the swollen Red River has become somewhat of a tourist attraction for many of the residents around Fargo. I'm standing on the Veterans Memorial Bridge. That's where scores of people come throughout the day, cameras in hand, to take a picture of history.
SHANA OLSCHLAGER: It's crazy.
CORLEY: Shana Olschlager and her three-year-old son, Logan, peer over the bridge barricade at some decorative lights just visible over the river waters that have flooded the park underneath the bridge. Olschlager and her family live in Moorhead, but evacuated, and have been out of their house since Thursday.
OLSCHLAGER: We were back there today putting stuff up on the second level just in case. So, just want to go home. Want this to be done.
CORLEY: Some, like Ann Dolans(ph), remain in their homes. Dolans says the dikes in her subdivision kept her house and others dry. She's grateful that ice and cold weather slowed the Red River's rise.
ANN DOLANS: Last night was a long night 'cause, I mean, we were able to sleep, but all night long I just prayed, you know, please, 'cause we couldn't go - we could only take 41-and-a-half feet.
CORLEY: The risk of dangerous flooding remained. It all depends on whether the thousands of sandbags that volunteers, city work crews and the National Guard filled and stacked don't become too saturated by a river that could take days before receding to less dangerous levels. So citizens, as well as the National Guard, and fire and police department workers are patrolling the dikes to keep track of any weakening. At the Veterans Memorial Bridge, Fargo resident Jennifer Leopard(ph) says the community must remain cautious.
JENNIFER LEOPARD: The river's not going to go down overnight, so I think we'll have to be just vigilant, you know, as spring progresses. And until the river really drops significantly, I don't think anybody can really breathe a sigh of relief.
CORLEY: Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Fargo.
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