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Rising Red River surrounds small Minn. town

/ Source: The Associated Press

The Red River and Wild Rice River crept toward flood crests Wednesday near this small northwest Minnesota town, but a stout earthen dike kept the community mostly dry, allowing flood-fighters to focus on sandbagging around farmhouses.

Workers pumped away water that seeped through the levee forming a square around Hendrum, one of many towns that beefed up flood protection after the disastrous flood of 1997.

“We are still sitting pretty dry in town,” said Mike Smart, who serves as both police chief and flood coordinator in the town of about 315 people.

Melting snow and heavy rain pushed the Red River quickly above its banks this spring, causing anxiety all along the river that serves as the state line between Minnesota and North Dakota.

Hendrum sits in a precarious spot in the broad valley, sandwiched between the Red River a mile to the west and the Wild Rice River a mile to the east.

The Red River had been rising steadily at Fargo, N.D., but the National Weather Service said it had crested and by Wednesday morning was just over 37.1 feet; flood stage is 18 feet. It was expected to start slowly receding later in the day, but meteorologists said it would not drop below 30 feet until next week.

It’s still too early to “pass the champagne and cigars,” said Fargo’s public works director, Dennis Walaker. He said it would take at least six days before the city reaches a comfort level.

Cass County’s emergency manager Dave Rogness estimated flood damage to roads and bridges in the county surrounding Fargo could total more than $1 million.

Downstream from Fargo, in Grand Forks, the Red was expected to crest Wednesday afternoon at 47.7 feet — about 20 above flood stage, but not above the city’s levee protection level.

Showers predicted
Showers were forecast in the southern fringe of the Red River basin that could prolong the high water river levels but weren’t expected to cause new problems, said Lynn Kennedy, a hydrometeorological technician with the National Weather Service.

At Hendrum, the Wild Rice River was at 32.32 feet early Wednesday and is expected to crest at 33.4 feet Thursday afternoon. The town’s levee, which was raised 3 feet after the 1997 flood, protects to 36.8 feet.

Some 16,000 sandbags were stockpiled in the middle of town, though they were being used primarily to protect farmhouses.

On Tuesday, Jon Grothe and friends stacked sandbags onto a dike protecting his farmhouse from the rising water. Nearly a decade ago, his house, sheds and corn bins were all inundated by the flood.

“I heard about (possible flooding) Saturday, then spent Sunday trying to digest whether that was realistic or not,” he said. “Then I decided it was silly not to take this seriously.”