Image: Piles of sandbags inside Fargodome
Scott Olson  /  Getty Images
Two truck drivers relax on a few of the hundreds of thousands of sandbags that were piled inside the Fargodome in Fargo, N.D., on April 1.
updated 5/21/2009 3:29:50 PM ET 2009-05-21T19:29:50

Hundreds of sandbags that protected Jim Brenan's south Fargo home from Red River floodwaters are gone. Now he has deep ruts in what used to be his lawn, shattered sidewalks and a broken sprinkler system. But no complaints.

"It's still a little rough around the edges," said Brenan, 82, who has lived in his River Drive house for 33 years. "There's going to be some damage with that many sandbags."

There were plenty of bags to go around in North Dakota, which battled spring floodwaters in the usual places like the Red River Valley, and in the unusual places, like communities along the Missouri River where the water backed up from ice jams. The state Department of Emergency Services on Wednesday estimated that 18 million sandbags were used throughout the state, including 8.5 million in Cass County.

"Think about all of the people, energy, and determination those 18 million sandbags represent — nearly 30 for every man, woman and child in North Dakota," Gov. John Hoeven said.

The 105,000 sandbags in Valley City should start to come down next week, and city officials plan to turn the broken wood pallets used to transport them into a bonfire at a community celebration.

"People should bring hot dogs and marshmallows," Valley City Mayor Mary Lee Nielson said. "We're going to burn those pallets together. It's only appropriate."

Some of the sandbags were sold to homeowners and businesses. E. John Carlson, who operates the Sandbags Warehouse out of a semitrailer in downtown Fargo, estimates he sold about 1 million bags. He sells unfilled bags in bundles for 35 cents each.

"There are always people or businesses who are not entitled to free bags for whatever reason. I fulfill that niche," Carlson said. "I was one of those people who needed bags during a flood in 1993. That's what got me interested in doing this."

The Army Corps of Engineers said it has removed 92 percent of the sandbags in Fargo and should complete the job by the end of the weekend.

The Red River has dropped below flood stage in Fargo after a record 61 days out of its banks, the National Weather Service said Wednesday. With help from all those sandbags, Fargo-area residents survived two crests, the first at a record 40.82 feet and the second at 34 feet.

Hoeven called the sandbag numbers "a true testament to the fighting spirit of North Dakotans in the face of a challenge."

Officials are working on ways to avoid such challenges in the future.

Corps representatives have spent the last two days outlining two possible flood control projects in the Fargo area, a $1 billion diversion project and a $625 million levee system, with plans to make a decision next year.

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