Fargo Braces For Flood As Red River Swells In Fargo, N.D., rain and an early snow melt are causing the Red River to rise to record levels. With only a week to prepare, volunteers have been working around the clock to stack millions of sand bags. Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker talks with Steve Inskeep.
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Fargo Braces For Flood As Red River Swells

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Fargo Braces For Flood As Red River Swells

Fargo Braces For Flood As Red River Swells

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Volunteers are stacking as many as two million sandbags along a part of North Dakota's Red River. Rain and an early snow melt have sent the river to record levels near Fargo, whose mayor is now on the line.

Mayor Dennis Walaker, welcome to the program.

Mayor DENNIS WALAKER (Fargo, North Dakota): Good morning.

INSKEEP: Good morning to you, and thanks for taking the time. I imagine it's been a busy time. You finished with the sandbags?

Mayor WALAKER: No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mayor WALAKER: No. We're still delivering sandbags, and we're hoping daylight here comes pretty soon so they can continue raising their dikes on the south side. They only had a foot or so to go, so hopefully that - one of the big things is the dirt. We're still - we've had backhoes digging all over the south part of the city trying to find suitable material to haul in and bolster up. But I can't wait till this gets over.

INSKEEP: Are you racing here? The river is still rising even as you're building these dikes?

Mayor WALAKER: Yeah. It's - well, we're really concerned, you know, about taking care of the river itself. But we have a south side, and we're concerned there about overland flooding and so forth because some of the legal drains come into the city and so forth. So no, it's still a multifaceted thing. We're still in gear. Hopefully, things will get better here shortly, but until the river actually crests, we're still pretty nervous about what's going on.

INSKEEP: Now I should remind people that you were around for the last major flood from the Red River in 1997. In fact, you were Fargo's public works director at the time. Did you learn anything from that experience that you're applying now?

Mayor WALAKER: Yeah, absolutely. But this is a different animal, as far as I'm concerned. The elements are being thrown at us. And the other thing that's really different about this one here, we had about three and a half to four weeks to prepare in 1997. And this year, it's been about a week and a half, basically started sandbag production a week ago.

And as the river forecast center has increased the crest from roughly 36 - you know, they gave us a guideline there, but they're talking about the real number as being 36 to 37. Then it went to 38. Then it went to 39. And yesterday at noon, it went to 40 on Friday and 41 on Saturday. So it's a moving target.

INSKEEP: Wow. One other thing, mayor: Isn't it pretty cold there?

Mayor WALAKER: Well, okay. It's - right now, it's about 19 degrees Fahrenheit.

INSKEEP: What's it like to be down by the river working with sandbags when it's 19?

Mayor WALAKER: Less than peaceful.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: I'm sorry. What's that?

Mayor WALAKER: You look across there and you see - it's always been, you know, there are areas of peace. You go down south, the south side of Fargo, and I can't - I don't know how many backhoes - three yard backhoes right now are digging and loading trucks and hauling trucks and so forth. So the sun never sets on those people. That's with the Corps of Engineers, and they're doing a wonderful support process for us in conjunction with our engineering department.

INSKEEP: I'm just wondering if this is brutal weather to be down by the water working?

Mayor WALAKER: Oh, absolutely. Sure it is. But there's no wind this morning. That's good. And it finally quit snowing last night. So - it was still snowing when I hit the sack last night. So it's a - the weather conditions are less than ideal.

INSKEEP: Okay.

Mayor WALAKER: They're not going to improve that much.

INSKEEP: All right. Mayor Walaker, thanks very much.

Mayor WALAKER: You bet. Thank you.

INSKEEP: Dennis Walaker is mayor of Fargo, North Dakota, which is trying to keep the Red River from spilling into that city. And we'll bring you more as we learn it.

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