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National Guard personnel walk in the high icy floodwater Saturday near Fargo as they try to evacuate residents.

Flood update: Red River levels still dropping - slowly

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Flood update: Red River levels still dropping - slowly
Morris Minnesota 607 Pacific Avenue 56267

Forum Communications report

FARGO, N.D. -- The Red River is still above previous record heights in Fargo, but the swollen river is retreating - slowly.

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According to the National Weather Service, the Red River was measured at 40.2 feet at 6:15 a.m. Sunday. That's down from 40.33 feet at 2 a.m. Sunday and the record reading of 40.82 at 12:15 a.m. Saturday. The river stood at 40.15 feet at 8:15 Sunday morning. The previous record crest was 40.1 feet in 1897.

The National Weather Service is predicting the river will continue to drop through the week. However, there is a storm system moving into the area that's expected to drop some snow on the Red River Valley.

But the failure of a permanent dike early this morning at Oak Grove Lutheran School, resulting in the loss of two buildings, serves as a reminder that fight against the Red River's floodwaters is far from over.

"Are we ready to say there is a crest? Probably," Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said. "We want to monitor it the rest of the day."

However, the river is expected to remain high - perhaps above 38 feet for the next week - and Fargo and Cass County encouraged all able-bodied sandbaggers to turn out today at the Fargodome.

Fargo used a third of its 300,000 sandbags on standby Saturday in its constant fight to plug leaks in approximately 49 miles of levees protecting the city.

Flood fight leaders said they'd like to produce 500,000 sandbags today as it could see the stock currently on hand used up quickly for leaking dikes.

"If we overkill, we will all be happy with that," said Bruce Grubb, enterprise director for the city of Fargo. "If we fall short, we will all be disappointed."

The point was driven home by Oak Grove's loss.

"What happened up in Oak Grove was a wake-up call to what can happen," Walaker said. "Our sympathies go out to Oak Grove school. The campus is basically devastated. They fought the good fight."

Still, officials said they've implemented and carried out a plan that has mostly kept the city safe during the flood, in large part to volunteer sandbags, vigilant homeowners, the North Dakota National Guard and contractors building levees.

"We want to take a moment to pause," City Commissioner Tim Mahoney said. "Reflect on what we have done, who we are and what everyone has done in our community."

The mayor again asked all non-essential businesses remain closed, although he said restaurants, gas stations, and grocery and hardware stores can open to provide services and products.

Greg Gust of the National Weather Service said a winter storm, which could drop 6 to 7 inches of snow in Fargo in the next few days, should not affect the rate of the Red's decline.

However, the big concern is strong winds, which could whip up waves and pound the dikes protecting the city, he said.

Gust said the National Guard's unmanned aircraft used this weekend helped the weather service better gauge the flow and extent of water in the Red River basin, its tributaries and overland.

Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney said members of his department and the National Guard plan to visit with cut-off residents north of Fargo.

They are battling their own fight, and the county wants to provide support and services to those who are cut-off, he said.

Sheriff's officials also plan to take boats to rural subdivisions south of town and check on those who may still be in their homes and need supplies to continue their flood fight.

"You might be cutoff but we haven't forgotten about you," Laney said of residents both north and south of the metro area.

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