Photos: Fighting floodwaters in Fargo

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  1. This satellite image released Tuesday shows the flooded Red River on Sunday as it divides North Dakota and Minnesota in the Fargo area. (Digitalglobe via Getty Images / Getty Images Contributor) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Snow falls in downtown Fargo on Monday. The city's heavy equipment was pulled away from the ongoing levee construction to deal with the snowstorm. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. The driver of this truck braved floodwaters and ice slabs on Monday driving along Interstate 29, north of Grand Forks, N.D. (Eric Hylden / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. National Guard soldiers prepare to launch large sheets of plastic with sandbag weights over the side of an earthen dike on the southside of Fargo Monday. Engineers hoped the plastic barrier will help prevent erosion as snow followed by high winds and blizzard conditions entered the region. (Allen Fredrickson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. The Red River had swamped these homes Monday in Moorhead, Minn. (Elaine Thompson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. An ice formation on a tree indicates the height of floodwaters, after the Red River receded in Oxbow, south of Fargo, on Sunday. (Eric Miller / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. This sign is among the ways residents of Fargo, N.D., are thanking the thousands of volunteer sandbaggers. (Daniel Barry / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A bitter cold did not stop folks in Fargo from attending a prayer service Sunday. (Daniel Barry / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Randy Richards uses a broom handle Sunday to measure the depth of the receding Red River floodwater that surrounds his brother's home in Fargo. (Eric Miller / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. The flood threat hadn't killed all signs of humor -- this one was spotted in the front window of a home in rural Fargo Sunday. (Carson Walker / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Volunteers work to fill sandbags Sunday in Fargo. The effort has been going on for more than a week in the city and other areas along the Red River. (Daniel Barry / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Carl Sinner shows off his "catch," a walleye pillow, as he and friends Dennis McIntyre, left, and Dick Roswick take a break Sunday from days of fighting Red River floodwaters to save Roswick's home in Fargo. (Eric Miller / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. People work to funnel floodwater out of a building at the Oak Grove Lutheran school on Sunday in Fargo. The bloated Red River briefly breached a dike early Sunday, pouring water into the school campus. Crews managed to largely contain the flooding, preventing more widespread damage in nearby areas. (Elaine Thompson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Bob Smith, left, and Jared Bakko head back to their cars after Smith checked on his house and Bakko took supplies to his grandmother as the Red River flood waters began to recede just south of Moorhead, Minn., on Saturday. (Craig Lassig / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. David Marshall lowers a current meter into the swollen Red River from a closed bridge between Moorhead, Minn.,and Fargo, N.D., on Saturday. (Jim Mone / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A road is covered by floodwaters on Saturday. (Carolyn Kaster / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Homes are surrounded by floating ice and floodwater as the Red River continues to rise on Saturday in Fargo, N.D. The normal banks of the river are defined by the twisting tree line and the ice toward the bottom of the picture is floodwater. (Carolyn Kaster / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Farrell Turner carries Nathaniel Jones while Amanda Monson, Ashley Jones and Cody Turner unload some belongings as they evacuate their home because of the Red River flood in Moorhead, Minn., on Friday. (Craig Lassig / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Lowell Bottrell paddles his canoe through icy floodwater up to a neighbor's home as the Red River continues to rise on Friday. (Carolyn Kaster / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Evelyn Radke is comforted by Anna Charles, right and Ves Marinov as she is evacuated with the rest of the residents at the Elim Rehab & Care Center on Thursday in Fargo. (Carolyn Kaster / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Randy Haas steps off a Coast Guard air boat after being rescued from his flooded home Thursday in Oxbow, N.D. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Vic Klosterman walks through flooding from the Red River in front of his home south of Fargo on Thursday. (Eric Miller / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Volunteers ride in the scoop of a front end loading tractor after sandbagging around a home threatened by flood waters from the Red River in Fargo on Thrusday. (Eric Miller / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Volunteers hitch a ride in a dump truck to help residents sandbag their homes as water from the Red River continues to rise on Wednesday. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Emergency workers use an air boat to rescue Destiny Dolan, 15, front left, and friend Kayla Weston, 15, on Wednesday. Dolan said the experience of being trapped was terrifying. (Nate Jenkins / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Michael Stensgard uses one of his family's boats to get back to their home from the Red River on Wednesday, near Fargo. (Richard Tsong-taatarii / The Star Tribune) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. One of Doug Stensguard's dogs, Annie, looks out over what used to be a 5-acre yard and an outbuilding that was flooded by the rising Red River on Tuesday in Fargo. Stensguard built an earthen and sandbag dike around his home in the hope of holding back the rising floodwater from the Red River. (Carolyn Kaster / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Zach Boor, 12, whose face is splattered with mud, passes a sandbag down the line as he joined college students to help build a dike along the north side of Rose Coulee on Monday in Fargo. Boor was excused from classes at Discovery Middle School so he could join thousands of other volunteers to build dikes to protect the city from the flooding Red River. (Dave Wallis / The Forum via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. North Dakota Army National Guard troops haul away empty palettes from River Shore Drive on Monday. (Dave Arntson / Zuma Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Volunteers help place sandbags outside the home of Jeremy Kuipers in Moorhead, Minn., on Tuesday. (Richard Tsong-taatarii / The Minneapolis Star Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. As the Red River rises in the background, Gloria Brown hauls a wagon load of sandbags to pile around her neighbor's home Tuesday in Fargo. (Carolyn Kaster / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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updated 3/29/2009 4:01:29 AM ET 2009-03-29T08:01:29

Seeking to avoid a Hurricane Katrina-like leadership failure, President Barack Obama assured the nation Saturday he was keeping close watch on the Midwest floods and putting the government's full weight behind efforts to prevent disaster.

"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," the president said in his weekly radio and Internet address.

"I will continue to monitor the situation carefully," he pledged. "We will do what must be done to help."

Obama also implored residents of North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota to be vigilant in reading flood-condition reports and to follow instructions from federal, state and local officials should evacuation be necessary. He repeatedly praised volunteers stockpiling sandbags and building levees, saying "their service isn't just inspirational — it's integral to our response."

In North Dakota, Fargo's fears of a catastrophic flood eased Saturday with word that the Red River apparently crested at lower-than-expected levels, and weary residents turned their attention to ensuring their hastily built levees hold up against an onslaught of ice-laden water expected to stay high for at least a week.

Obama was spending the weekend at Camp David before leaving Tuesday for a nearly weeklong European trip to address the global economic crisis with leaders of other world powers. But aides stressed that he was being kept abreast of the Midwest flooding despite being away from the White House.

Mindful of Katrina
In office just two months, Obama and his team no doubt are mindful of the Bush administration's bungled response in August 2005 to Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the Gulf Coast and highlighted the country's racial and economic divisions. George W. Bush's popularity took a beating in Katrina's aftermath, and the hurricane has been held up ever since as a symbol of the federal government's incompetence.

Obama used his weekly address to go to great lengths to describe all that the federal government has been doing as bulging rivers and streams threatened Midwest communities over the past few days. Aides said federal, state and local officials have been coordinating for more than a week.

Over the past few days, Obama signed emergency and disaster declarations for North Dakota and Minnesota, triggering federal support to help state and local officials who already had efforts under way. On Saturday, he indicated that help for South Dakota could come soon, saying his aides were "keeping close watch on the situation" there.

The Homeland Security Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency were coordinating the federal response.

'The power of nature'
Obama said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard, the Defense Department, the National Guard and the Health and Human Services Department, as well as the American Red Cross, were involved.

"At moments like these, we are reminded of the power of nature to disrupt lives and endanger communities," Obama said. "But we are also reminded of the power of individuals to make a difference."

On that note, he reaffirmed his support for legislation Congress is expected to send to him in the week ahead that would give tens of thousands of people more opportunities to mentor children, clean parks and help the poor, a sweeping call to national service in a time of need.

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