Fargo gets ready for possible evacuation

Kevin Hard rides in a trailer loaded with sandbags Wednesday in Oxbow, North Dakota.
City officials spent much of Wednesday working on a revised plan after the National Weather Service issued a foreboding forecast for the Red River: a 41-foot crest predicted to hit Saturday.

The last flood even near that level was in 1997, when the river crested at 39.6 feet. The record for the Red River in Fargo, the state’s most populous city, was set in 1897 at 40.1 feet, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Red River was one of many rivers that were at flood level early Thursday in North Dakota. The threat from the Missouri River caused more than 1,000 people to be evacuated from an area near Bismarck on Tuesday. On Wednesday, authorities blasted ice jams from the river in effort to keep it from rising even higher. But the Red River posed the gravest threat as it rose toward historic levels, officials said. “Nobody that’s alive today has ever seen it at 41 feet,” said Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker. “They need to take this extremely seriously.” Walaker said it’s only “smart” for city officials and residents to think about worst-case scenarios, which could include a citywide evacuation. “If they have people that are infirm or have difficulty getting around, they [residents] should consider taking them out of the city” before any evacuation is ordered, he said. Watch flooding compounded by snow » “If you have kids that are small and so forth, evacuation would scare the tar out of them.” City officials had been hoping that the river would top out at 39 feet, which would mean that their plan of getting all dikes to a 42-foot level would be fine.

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But with the 41-foot-crest predicted, officials and volunteers will need to add an extra foot on the levees containing the river. Officials called on volunteers Wednesday to help out day or night at two locations. Both the University of North Dakota’s arena, the Fargodome, and a central location will continue operating around the clock, officials said. Watch volunteers heed the call to help » Earlier Wednesday, emergency crews responded to an upscale neighborhood in the town of Oxbow, situated directly along the Red River about 15 miles from Fargo. Almost all of the 60 or so houses in the neighborhood had been evacuated, but the U.S. Coast Guard used an airboat to rescue nine people, including a man who had climbed a tree to avoid deepening water. “I know one call came in — the water smashed through the basement windows and was filling all the way up to the main level,” said Sheriff Paul D. Laney. Some homeowners had built sandbag dikes around their homes, many of which had been breached. By mid-afternoon, water was overtaking mailboxes. Watch North Dakota brace for record flood » Five adults and an infant had to be rescued by helicopter in nearby Abercrombie. Walaker said some arrests had been made to keep people off the dikes, because with an ice-and-snow mixture, the areas on and around the dikes are dangerous. Walaker did not elaborate on the arrests beyond saying there were just a few. Laney offered a stern warning to anyone in area without a good reason. See map of affected area »

“I’m going say it as blunt as I can be: Stay out of our operation area if you don’t belong here,” Laney said. “I’ve put an arrest team out up and down the corridor.” “Peoples’ lives are at stake,” Laney added. “Peoples’ houses and properties are on the line.”