Fargo, N.D., prayers answered as river recedes, levees hold

Workers scramble to pull an outlet hose for a pump over a dike as a helicopter lowers a giant sandbag to patch a leak at the flooded Oak Grove Lutheran school Sunday in Fargo, N.D.

Associated Press

Workers scramble to pull an outlet hose for a pump over a dike as a helicopter lowers a giant sandbag to patch a leak at the flooded Oak Grove Lutheran school Sunday in Fargo, N.D.

FARGO, N.D. — Weary residents of this sandbagged city came together in churches Sunday, counting their blessings that the Red River finally stopped rising and praying the levees would hold back its wrath.

A brief levee break that swamped a school provided a warning of the kind of threat that still hangs over them in the days ahead.

Church services on Sunday morning in Fargo took on even greater significance as people gathered after a week of round-the-clock sandbagging.

"At a time like this, we need to call on God's providential assistance," said the Rev. Bob Ona, pastor of Fargo's First Assembly of God church.

The Red River continued its slow retreat Sunday after cresting a day earlier, dropping below record level to 39.88 feet. City officials have said they would breathe easier when the river falls to 37 feet or lower, expected by Saturday, meaning a lengthy test for sandbag levees that residents hastily constructed last week.

Fargo faces another test this week as a storm approached with up to a half-foot of snow and powerful wind gusts that could send ferocious waves crashing into and over the already-stressed levees.

The sandbag effort resumed Sunday as helicopters began dropping 11 one-ton sandbags into the river to deflect its violent current and keep it from eroding vulnerable areas of the dike system.

The aerial effort also included an unmanned Predator drone used to watch flood patterns and ice floes and provide high-definition information. North Dakota has more than 2,400 National Guard troops engaged in the flood fight across the state.

The helicopter sandbag effort was focused on an area of the river that put another scare into the city during the night when it burst past a levee and submerged a Lutheran school campus.

Oak Grove Lutheran Principal Morgan Forness said city officials, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the National Guard unsuccessfully tried to contain the gushing water after a floodwall buckled around 1:30 a.m. The water kept spreading and "we couldn't contain it. … it's inundating all of the buildings," Forness said.

Moorhead, a city of 30,000 across the river in Minnesota, also was fighting to hold back the river. Mayor Mark Voxland said he was concerned but still optimistic about how long his city's dike could last against the pressure of the river water. "Some of us aren't sure how strong they might be," he said. "We have a long way to go."

The flood was caused by an enormous winter snowfall that melted and combined with more precipitation to send the river to record levels.

FAST FACTS

Soggy weekend

Spring storms made for a soggy weekend from the Great Plains to the Gulf Coast, knocking out power to thousands in Chicago and, in a twist from Mother Nature, covering the Texas Panhandle with a foot of snow that melted less than a day later under balmy 70-degree weather.

Snow and sleet struck overnight Saturday in Illinois, where ComEd reported about 10,000 customers were without power, down from about 45,000.

Freezing rain and more snow were expected in parts of Michigan's Lower Peninsula.

In Amarillo, Texas, where as much as 11 inches of snow fell in a blizzard that started Thursday, most of the snow had melted less than 24 hours later in 70-degree weather.

As much as 25 inches of snow fell in parts of Oklahoma.

The system also prompted a disaster declaration in Kansas where two deaths were reported over the weekend as a blizzard buried parts of the state in ice, slush and up to 2 feet of snow.

Fargo, N.D., prayers answered as river recedes, levees hold 03/29/09 [Last modified: Sunday, March 29, 2009 11:17pm]

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