Dave Kolpack  /  AP
Volunteers, including students from a dance school, add sandbags Tuesday to the temporary dike built in downtown Fargo, N.D.
updated 6/7/2007 10:27:03 AM ET 2007-06-07T14:27:03

Officials remain optimistic that the cities of Fargo and Moorhead, Minn., can handle floodwaters from the Red River, even with an approaching storm system that threatens to dump more rain.

Tornado watches were issued for the western and south central parts early Thursday.

"We know we're going to have significant rain. This is a big system," said Greg Gust, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Grand Forks. "But the pattern should be progressive. It should move."

Gust said Wednesday afternoon that even though the river's rise was slowing, the crest prediction of about 33 feet on Friday night or Saturday morning would not be lowered because of the storm. Flood stage in the city is 18 feet. He said the area could get an inch or two of rain from the storm expected to hit Thursday.

"We expect that 1 or 2 inches of rain would aggravate issues, but it would be hard to push the Red River too much higher," Gust said. "To really affect the river, you would need that 3 to 4 to 5 inch type of dump, right in the area of south Fargo."

Tim Bertschi, a flood engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers, said a temporary dike that was finished early Wednesday should protect the low-lying areas of downtown Fargo.

"We're ready to make quick plans just in case we get surprised by the weather," Bertschi said. "But I think we're in good shape."

Bertschi and Gust said the slower rise is especially important where Red and Wild Rice rivers merge south of Fargo.

"By slowing down a bit, maybe they won't come in quite at the same time," Gust said. "Typically that's a good sign."

Bertschi said more rain could "make a mess" in the Wahpeton area, but said levees are strong enough to protect that city and neighboring Breckenridge, Minn.

In Richland County, officials said they were increasing patrols after reports of people removing barriers around flooded roads and bridges and throwing them in ditches.

Fargo officials said no homes appear to be threatened, but rising waters could impact a golf course, baseball diamond, softball fields and performing arts school on the north side.

Across the river in Moorhead, a park near downtown was flooded to keep pressure from the Red from washing out roads. Officials declared a state of emergency but were not planning any sandbagging, said Michael Redlinger, assistant city manager.

"For us it's just maintaining and preserving a couple of parks and then quickly recovering after this goes through," Redlinger said. "We feel very comfortable."

Redlinger said "only a handful" of homes would be affected by a 33-foot crest, and likely would require minor sandbagging.

"We haven't received many calls from people asking about sandbags," he said.

The north-flowing Red River had risen above 28 feet Wednesday afternoon in Fargo.

Gov. John Hoeven announced he would tour flood areas of southeastern North Dakota on Thursday, beginning in Gwinner and ending in Fargo. He planned a town hall meeting in Wyndmere.

The weather service said the western and central parts of the state could see minor flooding from possible heavy rain.

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