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FLOOD UPDATE: Red continues rapid rise as Fargo mulls building levees higher

FARGO - With the Red River continuing a rapid rise, Fargo officials say they are monitoring conditions to determine whether the city will build levees to 42 feet.

The Red's latest reading was 35.14 feet at 8:15 a.m., up .16 in an hour. At that rate, the river would rise 4 feet in 24 hours.

The Wild Rice River, which feeds into the Red south of Fargo, also continues to rise, prompting water to overflow the Wild Rice's banks and flood overland.

"We've had plenty of time to add to our defenses, but we are concerned about the top end," Mayor Dennis Walaker said.

"We need to continue to be extremely vigilant."

On Wednesday, students and neighborhood volunteers placed 80 percent of the sandbags needed to protect the city to a 41-foot river level. However, officials plan to monitor river levels and could decide today whether to raise levees another foot.

Commissioner Tim Mahoney said it would take 12 to 24 hours to bolster sandbag levees to 42 feet.

More than 2,000 students are expected to help place sandbags today, and Fargo officials said they'll likely reach the 41-foot levee level by this afternoon.

As the Red rises, the flood fight will turn to monitoring levees and pumps.

"Once the water comes up at the dikes, we are at risk," said Mahoney, adding homeowners will need to monitor levees around the clock until the river recedes.

"We have a lot of opportunities for failure out in the system," Walaker said. "We are vulnerable with lift stations and sandbag levees."

Overland flooding also is affecting areas outside the immediate metro area, with the Wild Rice River flowing overland and the Sheyenne River backing up north of Fargo because the swollen Red won't allow the Sheyenne to empty into its channel.

The National Weather Service has predicted the Red to crest between 39.5 to 41 feet by late Sunday or Monday without additional precipitation, and the Red is expected to stay high for several days.

"If it happens to crest on Monday or Tuesday, until it gets down to moderate flood state ... we are still at risk," Walaker said.

Any level about 30 feet in Fargo is considered major flood stage.