FLOOD NEWS: Strong storm looms as Fargo urges volunteers to button up city by Friday
FARGO - With a "pretty good likelihood" of widespread rain showers this weekend, Fargo officials are urging volunteers to turn out today to place sandbags in neighborhoods.
With nearly 450,000 sandbags delivered Monday and Tuesday, and more expected today, about 1,400 students from Fargo's public and private schools and West Fargo will be in neighborhoods to build levees.
This morning, Fargo officials discussed the city's efforts and plans in the Spring 2011 flood fight.
Mayor Dennis Walaker urged residents to avoid complacency, despite the city's advance efforts, as the Fargo-Moorhead area prepares for Red River reaching 39 to 41 feet this weekend.
"By Friday night, we want a lot of this in place," Walaker said of earthen levees and sandbag levees. "Everyone needs to be vigilant."
The goal is to have city levees built to 41 feet, and ready to go another foot higher if needed, before a predicted storm rolls into the region.
"The weather is going to be critical," said Mark Ewens of the National Weather Service, which forecasts a strong likelihood of rain and possible thunderstorms to move into the Red River Basin starting Saturday.
"It's a pretty big storm," said Ewens, adding it could produce a quarter to a half inch of rain in areas. More rain is possible in isolated areas hit by thunderstorms. "Could have a big impact" on flooding.
By late Thursday or Friday, Walaker said officials will decide whether to build levees to 42 feet.
"I can't stress enough how much we need a good turnout from the community," said Jim Gilmour, the city's planning director.
Sandbags have been deployed to many several neighborhoods in south Fargo and near Oak Grove High School.
More bags will be deployed to south neighborhoods, from Belmont Park to the Fargo Country Club, and to the north neighborhoods of Woodcrest and Riverwood.
Clay levee building will continue throughout the city, too.
Commissioner Tim Mahoney called this year's efforts "precision flood fighting," with early production of millions of sandbags and exact placement of levees and bags to neighborhoods while working around the weather.
"Stand up and be counted," Mahoney urged volunteers, reminding them to sign into volunteer centers so the city can receive federal reimbursement for their efforts.
If Fargo doesn't see a strong turnout of volunteers, Mahoney said the city could use CodeRED to get the help it needs.
The North Dakota National Guard has 110 airmen and soldiers in Fargo, and another 100 are on the way.
They'll be available to help patrol levees throughout the city and bolster quick response teams to plug any breaches. Levee patrols will likely begin Thursday afternoon or evening when the Red reaches 36 feet, City Administrator Pat Zavoral said.
Dr. Andy McLean, medical director for the North Dakota Department of Human Service, said the city owes a lot of its flood-fighting success to the youth, but urged residents to be vigilant and join the fight.
"We need to continue to keep our guard up this week," McLean said.