Image: Sandbags in Fargodome
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More than 300,000 sandbags are still sitting inside the Fargodome in Fargo, N.D., and forecasters say they could be needed by the end of April.
updated 4/3/2009 6:13:33 PM ET 2009-04-03T22:13:33

There's a good chance the swollen Red River separating North Dakota and Minnesota will return to a dangerously high level by late April, forecasters said Friday.

Mark Frazier of the National Weather Service said there was a 75 percent chance that the river will reach or surpass 41 feet, slightly higher than last week's record level that caused flooding in both states. There's a 25 percent chance it will reach 42.8 feet or higher, he said.

Fargo and Moorhead, Minn., were largely spared serious damage from last week's flooding, thanks to a dramatic, around-the-clock volunteer effort that put down millions of sandbags. But the weather service had warned all along of a new crest in April from snowmelt and likely spring rains.

Residents are ready for the second round, said Mike Williams, a Fargo city commissioner.

"It's not the forecast we wanted to hear," Williams said. "But we're in a better position than we were in the first round, and our dikes are proven."

In addition to the sandbags already in place, Williams said the city has 450,000 sandbags on reserve and heavy equipment in place to help fortify the dikes. He believes the levees will be even stronger for the next surge.

Record March rain
Record precipitation, high river flows, reduced water storage and saturated soils are factors in the forecast, the weather service said. Fargo saw a record March rainfall of 4.62 inches, far surpassing the 1882 record of 2.83 inches.

The Red River crested at a record 40.82 feet on March 28. It was down more than 5 feet, at 35.59 feet, by late Friday morning.

"The rivers were at record heights. They are very sensitive to any type of precipitation that is occurring," Frazier said.

The city won't be rushed like they were for the first crest, Williams said.

"This gives us time to clear out the areas, get the old pallets out and get reorganized," he said. "We're going to continue to prepare for the worst and hope for the best."

Conditions in Fargo began returning to near-normal by midweek, as shops reopened and residents in areas that did not escape the flooding began the cleanup. But schools weren't reopening until Monday.

Meanwhile, Govs. John Hoeven of North Dakota and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota were visiting Fargo on Friday afternoon to discuss plans to improve long-term flood protection in the area.

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