Red River levels dropping barely; Residents remain on alert

While the Red River level appeared to be dropping early Sunday, Fargo, North Dakota, officials said they were still holding their collective breath.

“In past flooding, you have to understand, we’ve had times in which people thought it crested and then it came back and went up,” Fargo Deputy Mayor Tim Mahoney said. “And our temperature is changing, so we will be reluctant to announce a crest until we truly feel there’s been a crest.” City Manager Pat Sawyerville added, “We cannot think that we’ve passed some milestone here.” Above-freezing temperatures, followed by heavy rains this week, caused the Red River and its tributaries to swell, sending Fargo into emergency preparation mode. Two people have died of heart attacks in efforts to prevent flooding, according to a statement from the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services. Fifty injuries had also been reported in flood-related incidents, according to authorities. The injuries included victims of car wrecks caused by flooded roads, epidemiologist Kirby Kruger said. Other illnesses, including mental health issues, carbon monoxide poisoning and cardiac-related events were reported, Kruger said. Two schools have been forced to make changes as they wait to see if conditions will improve. The University of North Dakota has canceled classes until noon Monday while the Fargo campus of the North Dakota State University has been shut down until April 6. By 2:15 a.m. Sunday (3:15 a.m. ET), the river was at about 40.31 feet, slightly lower than where it stood earlier Saturday, at 40.61 feet. River levels were expected to stay below 41 feet and slowly drop over the next three to seven days, according to the National Weather Service. Are you there Share your photos, video Still, forecasters warned of “relative uncertainty” about the predictions.

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“The good news, or shall we say the cautiously optimistic news, is that the river is behaving rather nicely for us now,” said Greg Gust of the National Weather Service. “The official terms are that the crest is occurring. We don’t believe that the actual, ultimate crest has occurred yet,” Gust said, speaking at a news conference in Moorhead, Minnesota — across the Red River from Fargo. Gust said forecasters had revised earlier predictions. For the next several days to a week, the river is expected to “stay very near 41 feet with fluctuations of half a foot to a foot, meaning, we could rise well above 41 feet,” he said. See map of affected area ยป Earlier, the agency had said the river could reach as high as 43 feet, the height of the city’s dikes. As with the Fargo officials, the revised forecast did not allay the concerns of officials in Minnesota. “I know we’re all feeling a little bit of a sense of relief, that the river has slowed down, but I want to warn against any kind of complacency,” Minnesota state Rep. Morrie Lanning said at the news conference in Moorhead. “I want to caution on one thing that’s different this time around: In all the previous floods, I don’t ever recall a melt-yet-to-happen after we reach a crest,” he said. “We’ve got a huge amount of water that’s frozen now that’s going to run off.” President Obama said he was monitoring the situation carefully. “Even as we face an economic crisis which demands our constant focus, forces of nature can also intervene in ways that create other crises to which we must respond — and respond urgently,” he said Saturday in his weekly radio and Internet address.

“For the people of North and South Dakota and Minnesota who live along rivers spilling over their banks, this is one such moment.” The president has signed emergency and disaster declarations for Minnesota and North Dakota, freeing up federal funds for the region.