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N.D. town sees flood scare as levees leak

Residents were urged to evacuate part of a North Dakota town Monday while crews worked to plug a breach in a levee along the Sheyenne River, which was rising toward a record flood crest.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Earthmoving equipment and National Guard helicopters hauled sand Monday to reinforce leaky dikes that led to evacuations of two parts of town threatened by the Sheyenne River, the latest North Dakota stream to rise above its banks.

Twice in 12 hours police had gone knocking on doors, urging people to get out.

"It was just kind of disbelief, actually," said chiropractor Jeff Brown, who lives near one dike that had to be repaired Sunday night. He said he was in his back yard Sunday afternoon when "my daughter stuck her head out the window and said 'Dad, we have to evacuate."

Police came around with bullhorns to warn residents "like a scene out of a movie," he said.

Brown and his family packed up their belongings and headed to his parents' home on higher ground.

They were allowed to return Monday after repairs to the nearby dike, but early Monday a weak spot developed in a dike near Valley City State University and residents of another part of town were told to leave while crews reinforced the dike.

Mayor Mary Lee Nielson did not know how many people evacuated in the town of 6,875 people. She said officials advised the evacuation because "we always err on the side of caution and get people out of harm's way when we can."

The Sheyenne was headed for a crest at around 22 feet in the next couple of days in Valley City, 2 feet higher than the record set in 1882, the National Weather Service said. At that height, the city could have to close all but one of its 11 scenic bridges, officials said.

It's the latest threat from rivers swollen by melting snow that already have washed out roads, damaged homes and turned farmsteads into islands around North Dakota. The weather service issued a flood warning Sunday for large parts of western and central North Dakota.

The Sheyenne River empties into the Red River, expected to reach a second flood crest of its own near Fargo this week.

The Red River crested at Fargo and neighboring Moorhead, Minn., late last month just short of 41 feet, after volunteers filled thousands of sandbags to raise levees above that mark. The Red's River's second crest at Fargo is projected to reach around 38 feet or 39 feet, slightly lower than earlier forecasts.

"It doesn't look quite as bad as we thought, as far what's coming towards us," Fargo City Commissioner Tim Mahoney said Monday. "But rain could change that."

In the meantime, Fargo is sending some of its sandbags to Valley City, about 60 miles away, and to the Sheyenne River town of Lisbon, Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said.

"I think Valley City's got the true test," Walaker said Monday.

Flooding has washed out roads across the state and counties are advising people not to travel on many of smaller, secondary routes. State transportation officials said the speed limit was reduced to 25 mph on Interstate 94 near Steele, in central North Dakota, because of flooding.

On Saturday, officials started evacuating the North Dakota Veterans Home near the Sheyenne River in the town of Lisbon.

Brown said he saw about 24 dump trucks and two payloaders being used on the levee repair work, along with National Guard helicopters dropping sand. The National Guard said about 20 one-ton sandbags were dropped to reinforce the dikes.

"That was pretty surreal. It's like you're in a different country," Brown said.