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Counties throughout the northwest move into flood-fighting mode

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news Morris, 56267
Morris Minnesota 607 Pacific Avenue 56267

Residents of Roseau, Minn., where a flood inundated the city in June 2002, were keeping a nervous watch on the Roseau River on Tuesday. The tributary of the Red River was at 20.28 feet as of 5:15 p.m. Tuesday, and the National Weather Service was forecasting a crest of 20.4 feet around midnight.

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The river hit 23.4 feet in 2002, and the previous high was 21.1 feet in April 1996.

According to Roseau Mayor Jeff Pelowski, a crest of 14.7 feet was predicted as recently as last Friday, and 20.4 feet would be the fifth-highest level ever recorded. He said the city has been in full flood-fighting mode since Sunday night. The city's sandbagging machine is set up, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is on hand to help protect the community to a level of 22 feet.

"It's not a lot of work to get to that point but it's a lot of work to get over that," a tired Pelowski said Tuesday afternoon.

According to Pelowski, Roseau's levee system allows officials to know the elevation levels along the river within the city's limits.

That makes it easier to target specific areas.

"Right now, we are sandbagging, but we have a lot of our clay levees in place so there are not as many areas we have to sandbag as in the past," Pelowski said. "Long story short, right now we're fully mobilized."

Roseau County Emergency Manager Gracia Nelson reported Tuesday afternoon that a large ice jam was affecting flow in the Roseau River four or five miles -- or perhaps even closer -- to Roseau. She said there are not very many farms in the area of the ice jam.

Another concern is the amount of water still upstream. The Roseau River near Malung, Minn., was at 21.16 feet and still rising as of 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Counties throughout northwestern Minnesota all were in flood mode Tuesday afternoon, keeping a close watch on rising rivers in some areas and closing rural roads affected by overland flooding in others.

Here's a look at the flood situation in northwestern Minnesota and northeastern North Dakota as of Tuesday afternoon:

Polk County

Overland flooding is a problem in western Polk County, and a lot of county roads have washed out, Nancy Shafer, deputy emergency management director, said Tuesday afternoon.

She said officials were marking as many of the affected roads as possible but urged drivers to use caution and not travel past barricades.

"If there's water on the roadway, don't drive on it," she said. "It may be deeper than it looks or the road itself may be weakened."

The county also is asking people not to drive around sightseeing, she said.

"We'd rather the people not be out there," she said.

Shafer said Hammond Township and other townships south and west of Crookston are probably the most affected by flooding.

She said the county's Emergency Operations Center now is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and the county's dispatch center is picking up the calls that come in after that. She said people with flood concerns or questions can call the EOC at (218) 281-0437 or the dispatch center at (218) 281-0431.

Marshall County

Heavy rain that fell Monday was causing a few problems in the eastern part of the county, and residents were sandbagging a few houses in Middle River and Newfolden, Minn., said Gary Durand, county emergency services director.

Flood preparations along the Red River in Oslo, Minn., now are in full swing, Durand said, and 2,500 sandbags were filled Tuesday. Durand said plans also are in the works to put clay on the town's earthen dike "to build that back up for the rush when it comes."

Elsewhere in the county, Durand said overland water has inundated some smaller township roads -- he didn't have an exact number -- but flooding issues were mostly quiet. He said a diversion protecting the city of Warren, Minn., was doing its job well.

Norman County

Ada, Minn., sustained serious flooding in 1997 when an ice jam on the Wild Rice River forced water into the streets, but that's not a concern this year.

Kevin Ruud, Norman County emergency manager, said ice jams on the Wild Rice have cleared the river near Ada. He said there was some "internal flooding" near the county highway department building along state Highway 200 on the north side of town.

That required building a quick sand dike.

"We had water within 10 feet of the buildings, but we were able to stop that and now it's receded," Ruud said.

Ruud said the biggest issues are in the western part of the county along the Red River. He said the Corps is working to put up emergency levees in Perley and Hendrum, Minn., and sandbagging efforts are under way in Halstad and Shelley, Minn. Sandbags also are available for rural residents who might need them, Ruud said.

He said overland flooding has been especially serious this year.

"We've got water where we've never had it before -- deep," Ruud said. "It's kind of a vicious flood. It came so fast, and it came so hard. It's literally taking frozen roads and cutting them."

Clearwater County

Sandbaggers worked to protect a house along the Clearwater River in Bagley, Minn., but flooding issues in Clearwater County aren't too serious, according to Todd Spray, chief deputy for the Clearwater County Sheriff's Department.

"There's nothing that's life threatening at this point, but we are keeping an eye on it," Spray said.

He said overland flooding has inundated a few township roads, but officials in the affected areas are keeping tabs on the conditions. Spray said the county has sand and bags available for anyone who might need them.

Kittson County

Aside from some overland flooding and a few township roads underwater, the flood situation wasn't bad Tuesday, said Gary Rice, Kittson County emergency management director.

The real concerns will come in a couple of weeks, when Red River floodwaters peak in areas near Drayton and Pembina, N.D., and St. Vincent, Minn., Rice said.

"We're looking at some major flooding, but most of the houses have been removed from harm's way out there," Rice said, referring to areas along the Minnesota side of the Red.

Those that remain are protected by ring dikes, Rice said.

Rice said the Two Rivers River in Hallock, Minn., wasn't causing any problems. The river is predicted to rise to an elevation of 810 feet, Rice said. That's major flood stage, he said, but not unusual for this time of year, and the city's dikes can handle that well.

Farther upstream, he said, the pool level on Lake Bronson, a reservoir on the Two Rivers River, was lowered last week to accommodate the expected influx. The dam is letting out a lot of water, he said, but it's coming in even faster.

Rice said the county has about 1,000 sandbags filled in case people need them, and the Corps is coming up to assess a couple of key levees along the Red.

"I think they're fine, but you just never know," Rice said.

Pennington County

The dam on the Red Lake River in Thief River Falls was running with all of the gates open, and a few homeowners in low-lying areas were sandbagging Tuesday afternoon, according to Pennington County Sheriff Mike Hruby.

But overall, the county's flood situation was mostly under control.

"We're not too worried about it," Hruby said. "The big thing for us is when our river (ice) goes out, and right now, above the dam in Thief River Falls, it's iced over but it's busting up. We're hoping by the end of the week the ice is gone."

Hruby said it's not unusual for all of the gates on the dam to be open this time of year. He said the Red Lake River in town downstream from the dam was "in the clear."

Hruby said the county has filled about 6,000 sandbags and will continue filling bags just in case they're needed. Overland flooding has closed a few rural roads, he said, mainly south and west of Thief River Falls

Red Lake County

A couple of ice jams on the Red Lake River north of Red Lake Falls, Minn., were causing a few issues but didn't pose a threat to any homes, said Red Lake County Sheriff Mitch Bernstein.

"Our rivers for the most part are running, so they can handle quite a bit of water as long as they keep running," Bernstein said. "We're surviving as far as towns, and houses are in pretty good shape. We're doing OK."

Bernstein said most townships in the county have a few roads closed, mostly because of culverts that haven't yet opened up, but all of the major roads are in good shape. He said workers have filled about 1,000 sandbags at a site near the hockey arena in Red Lake Falls just in case they're needed.

He said people with flood concerns or issues should call either the sheriff's department of the county highway department.

"We will get people together to sandbag" if needed, Bernstein said.

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