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Local volunteers join flood fighting effort in Fargo

Volunteers from the Douglas County area helped with flood relief efforts in Fargo-Moorhead this week. Tastefully Simple and The Alexandria Blizzard coordinated an effort to bus 300 volunteers from the Alexandria area to the affected area Tuesday....

Volunteers from the Douglas County area helped with flood relief efforts in Fargo-Moorhead this week.

Tastefully Simple and The Alexandria Blizzard coordinated an effort to bus 300 volunteers from the Alexandria area to the affected area Tuesday.

The effort was one of many staged by communities throughout the region.

Students, soldiers, neighbors and other volunteers slogged through the rain en masse Monday, racing to reinforce levees and fill sandbags while the area braced for more moisture through today, Wednesday.

As the National Weather Service stuck to its prediction that the Red River will crest at 39 to 41 feet in Fargo-Moorhead on Friday, the mounting stress of a potential record flood began to take its toll.

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"Fear is setting in," said Salvation Army Captain Adam Moore. "We're seeing that on the streets."

As of 8:15 p.m. Monday, the Red River level in Fargo was 27.58 feet.

Weather service officials warned that a storm system moving into the Red River Valley from Nebraska overnight could drop up to an inch of rain over a widespread area before the rain turns to snow Wednesday.

Despite sporadic showers Monday, Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said the city "had a good day."

Fargo tried to speed up the dike-building process by deploying a portable wall system that's used to protect soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan from bullets and grenades.

Sharon Mueller watched from near her home just off 40th Avenue South as a payloader filled a wall of the Hesco containers with sand. Under the road, large ice chunks floated down the swollen Drain 27.

Mueller, a retired bartender, said she couldn't believe how fast the rising water was running. She said that despite her husband's complacency, she was worried about flooding.

"Can you imagine what Noah must have felt like?" she said.

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Sandbagging hit high gear in the metro, as high schools let out students and colleges canceled classes to aid the effort.

North Dakota Governor John Hoeven said students would be forgiven for missed school days.

About 30 Concordia College students stacked sandbags around Barb Groth's house in Oakport Township north of Moorhead, where several hundred volunteers pitched in.

Groth, whose home flooded in 1997 when the Red River crested at 39.57 feet, said she didn't think a repeat was possible.

"I never thought it could happen again. We're nervous," she said.

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty stopped in Oakport and Moorhead, urging state residents to join the flood fight. About 230 Minnesota National Guard troops were helping with flood efforts, and he said he expects that number will eventually reach about 400.

Hoeven said the state's National Guard committed 500 soldiers to the water war, with more available.

Fargo raised its goal for daily sandbag output to 300,000 to try to fill 2 million bags by Thursday.

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"If those neighborhoods hold, we are safe as a city," said Fargo City Commissioner Tim Mahoney. "If we're unable to do that, we're going to have a problem."

The city was prepared for a Red River crest of 38 feet. Now, city officials want to get the dikes up to 42 feet, Mahoney said.

At 41 feet "we lose a lot of houses," he said. "If we're going to get this thing done, it's going to have to be done in the next 24 to 48 hours in a massive way."

The Fargodome, where volunteers waited for bus rides to Sandbag Central, the city's utilities building, became its own sandbag-filling station with hundreds of shovel-wielding volunteers scooping sand dumped on the parking lot.

Sandbaggers kept spirits up despite the gloomy weather and flood outlook.

Fargo plans to give residents routes out of town Wednesday afternoon or Thursday, said Pat Zavoral, Fargo city administrator.

"There are some locations in south Fargo where if the water does break away from these [dikes], they won't be able to use Interstate-29," he said.

Fargo Police Chief Keith Ternes urged residents to go to the city's Web site and register for the Code Red alert system so they can be reached in an emergency. Residents with land lines are already registered in the system.

Sandbagging efforts continued overnight. City officials hope they get 300 people an hour to help fill sandbags at the city's utility operation center at 2301 8th Ave. N. and 1,000 people an hour at the Fargodome. Hoeven asked for a presidential emergency declaration based on preparation efforts because of the costs. He said he thinks the state might get it today.

    Forum reporters Mike Nowatzki and Tracy Frank contributed to this report. The Forum and the Echo Press are both owned by Forum Communications Company.

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