Image: Sandbags
Dave Kolpack  /  AP
Sandbags are lined up outside a city utility building in Fargo, N.D., on Saturday in preparation for what could be record flooding in the Red River Valley.
updated 3/21/2009 6:49:41 PM ET 2009-03-21T22:49:41

The city of Fargo is racing to fill 1.5 million sandbags to prepare for record flooding as a nearby river is expected to crest more than 20 feet above flood stage.

Volunteers were being bused to a city utility building the size of a football field where they will fill sandbags, officials said. The city also bought two machines that resemble large spiders and can produce about 5,000 sandbags an hour.

"It looks a little 'Star War'-ish in here," said Bruce Grubb, Fargo's enterprise director.

The National Weather Service projected that the Red River would crest between 37 feet and 40 feet between March 28 and April 1. That's about 22 feet above flood stage and about a half-foot higher than the 1997 spring flood that swamped several homes. A storm also was expected to drop one or two inches of rain in the Red River Valley starting Sunday.

"If we go to 40 feet, we're going to be tested," Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said Saturday after touring sandbagging operations with North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven and other officials.

Officials said it would be difficult to predict the extent of flooding. Walaker said an aerial tour of the river basin indicated the situation "didn't look as threatening as we've been hearing."

City officials said 225 National Guard soldiers have been called in ahead of the flooding, and the mayor said the North Dakota State University football team was scheduled to help with the sandbagging process.

"We're still getting more demand for volunteers than we have volunteers," said Dave Rogness, Cass County emergency manager. "This need is only going to increase over the next several days."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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