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Minnesota National Guard
In Breckenridge, guarded relief over Red River

"We just see people working very hard"

March 25, 2009

BRECKENRIDGE, Minn - Kirk Peterson, whose home backs up to the Red River, still has flashbacks to the 1997 floods Fourteen inches of water soaked the main level of his home

Since then, Peterson, 50, has raised his home 3 feet, and 3 feet were added to the earthen levee that runs through his back yard

Still, as the Red River began to rise the past several days, Peterson fretted Fortunately, he said, the rains that covered much of the region passed by Breckenridge on Tuesday

"Somebody was watching out for us last night," he said "We would have been fighting a big one today"

Other Breckenridge residents breathed a sigh of relief as the Red began to recede from its 175-foot crest - still nearly 8 feet above its 10-foot flood level By then, the city of about 3,000 people had bolstered the earthen levees that surround the community to withstand at least 19 feet

By 6 pm, the emergency command center at City Hall was mostly quiet

"We're feeling real fortunate now," Vice Mayor Jeff Krueger said

Peterson said he thought about leaving the area after 1997, but ultimately, it was the river that kept him there

As a flock of geese passed overhead, he said: "You stand out there and see that, and it's worth it"

But others cautioned against premature optimism

Meteorologist Jim Kaiser called the developments in Breckenridge "definitely good news" But Kaiser said it's too early to say whether the Red's projected crest in Fargo, ND, 40 miles to the north, would be lowered as well

The National Weather Service revised its Breckenridge-Wahpeton, ND, prediction because it got new data from river gauges to replace a computer-modeled prediction, Kaiser said

The Red, which in Fargo rose more than 4 feet since Monday to reach 32 feet by 6:15 pm Tuesday, was expected to crest between 39 and 41 feet as early as Friday An emergency dike to protect downtown Fargo was being raised to 42 feet, but the expected crest would threaten several neighborhoods and hundreds of homes in lower areas, particularly residential areas north and south of town The Red's record high at Fargo was 396 feet in 1997

At the Fargodome on Tuesday night, as fast as trucks could dump sand onto the concrete floor, volunteers shoveled it into white canvas bags

In fact, there were so many volunteers they had to wait their turns to help About 9 pm, workers at the arena's front door told new arrivals it would likely be a few hours before there would be room for them on the floor

That wasn't going to stop Josh Mayfield, 28, of Frazee, Minn He and his friends had driven 70 miles to help with sandbagging efforts, and the Fargodome was the third place that tried to turn them away

"We're not leaving without sandbagging," he said "I burned a vacation day"

A few shovels opened up on the arena floor, and the crew went to work Moments later, they were hoisting shovelfuls of wet sand into bags

A group of workers from Visi, a tech company in St Paul, didn't have to burn vacation to help The company gave workers who wanted to help time off, said Melissa Summers, 43, who made the trip Tuesday with nine coworkers

"My sister lives in Crookston, and she got nailed in '97, so it's nice I'm able to come help out," Summers said

A few chiropractors waited in the dome's lobby to offer services to sandbaggers' ailing backs Kari Salwey, whose husband, Todd Salwey, was adjusting the backs of some dusty volunteers, said they would be there the next two days

"It's everybody helping each other," she said

Back on the floor, the best answer anyone had as to how many trucks of sandbags were leaving the arena per hour was, "a lot"

Many in Fargo remember the devastation of the 1997 flooding

Those floods forced tens of thousands of people to flee homes in North Dakota, Minnesota and southern Canada in one of the costliest and largest flood evacuations in US history before Hurricane Katrina The disaster killed 11 people in the Dakotas and Minnesota and caused an estimated $41 billion in damage

On Tuesday, hundreds of volunteers - most of whom had seen or heard of the decade-old disaster - eyed another day of placing sandbags, with a goal of filling nearly 2 million The call for help went out Sunday, and students, Soldiers and strangers rallied to the region in support

"We don't see any fear," Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said "We just see people working very hard"

North Dakota had mobilized 660 National Guard members by early Tuesday and expected to have 800 working by day's end Minnesota sent more than 300

"It's nice to have them deal with our sand, not the Iraq sand," said Rep Earl Pomeroy, D-ND

Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland said 65 percent to 70 percent of the needed sandbags are in place, and he hoped the project would be completed today

Also Tuesday:

# Farther up the Red River, officials in Grand Forks closed a major bridge The Point Bridge is closed when the river reaches 45 feet, which is expected Thursday Officials closed it well ahead of that mark because they feared the possibility of fast-rising water

# Minnesota health officials warned private water wells are particularly susceptible to contamination from floods John Linc Stine, assistant commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Health, said that if floodwaters come within 50 feet of a well's casing, it will have to be pumped out, disinfected and tested before the water can be used again City water systems are generally well protected

# Authorities asked some 200 people to evacuate three low-lying areas in Crookston, Minn, after an ice jam caused a sudden rise in the Red Lake River

# A National Guard helicopter rescued Bernie and Jenny Martin when a creek around their farm near Carson in south-central North Dakota rose faster than expected "We were on an island We were totally surrounded by water," Bernie Martin said by phone from a friend's home Guard members used the helicopter because they were worried a boat would hit floating ice chunks or strong current

# At Linton, south of Bismarck, ND, a rising creek forced the evacuation of about 75 homes, and about 10 people were rescued by boat

Jessica Fleming "ยข Pioneer Press

This story contains information from the Associated Press

See photos and read more at TwinCitiescom
Read the Minnesota National Guard press release.

Follow this link to see a graphic on the history of flooding in the Red River Basin arranged by the U.S. Geological Survey

March 24, 2009: "100 More National Guard Soldiers sent to Red River," StarTribune

March 24, 2009: "Lower projection on Red upstream may help Fargo," 5 EYEWITNESS News

March 24, 2009: "State offers flood assistance," Bemidji Pioneer

March 23, 2009: "Minnesota Soldiers help with battle against river," INFORUM, The forum of Fargo-MoorheadMarch 23, 2009: "Minnesota Guard will help the fight," StarTribune

March 23, 2009: "Minnesota, N.D. Guard respond to Red River Valley flooding," National Guard Bureau

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