FARGO — Hundreds of volunteers kicked off the first day of filling sandbags to protect Fargo and Cass County from a potential spring flood.

Starting at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, March 10, residents, students and employees of local businesses flocked to Sandbag Central at 2301 8th Ave. N. where Cass County and Fargo are collaborating to reach a goal of filling 400,000 bags in four days this week.

“The funny thing about sandbagging here, it seems to be an annual rite of spring,” Fargo City Administrator Bruce Grubb said. “Schoolkids love it. We get really good business participation."

Grubb said they got a good start on Tuesday, with more than 300 volunteers showing up in the morning. He said he's confident volunteers will meet the call for filling sandbags this year as they have in previous years.

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Volunteers are still needed to fill time slots Wednesday through Friday, especially in the early morning and afternoon hours. Information on volunteering can be found on the city of Fargo's website.

Fargo Cass Public Health officials were on hand Tuesday monitoring volunteers for signs of fatigue, injury and illness, including symptoms of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, which has not been detected in North Dakota.

As in past years, staff watched for volunteers with any signs of illness as they checked in, said Chris Ohman, an environmental health practitioner with the city of Fargo. No one at Sandbag Central had been sent home for health reasons as of the early afternoon, officials said.

Hand sanitizer had been available in year's past at Sandbag Central, but new this year are dispensers mounted on stands. Also, gloves for volunteers were not reused.

Though hand sanitizer has been available at Sandbag Central in the past, having it mounted on stands is new. This year's effort to fill sandbags started Tuesday, March 10. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Though hand sanitizer has been available at Sandbag Central in the past, having it mounted on stands is new. This year's effort to fill sandbags started Tuesday, March 10. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Gloves at Sandbag Central in Fargo are no longer being reused. This year's effort to fill sandbags started Tuesday, March 10. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Gloves at Sandbag Central in Fargo are no longer being reused. This year's effort to fill sandbags started Tuesday, March 10. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

About 60 U.S. Bank employees were among the volunteers Tuesday.

Ashley Larson, operations manager for the bank’s call center in Fargo, said employees have volunteered for several years. “It’s our community, so we’re just giving back to them and making sure that we do everything we can to protect those that live and work within our community,” she said.

About 300,000 sandbags from last year’s flood fight are stored, but they are frozen, Fargo Solid Waste Utility Director Terry Ludlum said. The city will use the new bags first and tap into last year’s reserves if needed, but they have to thaw first, Ludlum said.

This year, the Red River in Fargo has a 50% chance of hitting a flood crest of 34.8 feet, a 25% chance of 36.2 feet and a 5% chance of 39.1 feet, according to the latest outlook from the National Weather Service. A 39.1-foot flood would equal the third-highest Fargo flood on record.

Last year, the Red River in Fargo crested around 35 feet on April 8. The highest crest came in 2009 at 40.8 feet.

The weather service’s next outlook is expected Thursday, March 12.