FARGO, N.D. – Weary residents welcomed the Red River’s further retreat Monday but faced an approaching snowstorm expected to kick up wind-whipped waves that could threaten the sandbag levees they built to protect their city from a major flood.
Engineers weren’t worried about the storm’s snow because it’s unlikely to melt soon. They were concerned, however, that crashing waves could weaken the dikes.
The higher the wind speed, the higher the threat, said Jeff DeZellar, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“The forecast that we saw was 25 mph or more, and certainly that’s enough wind to create some wave action on the river,” he said Monday.
National Guard members placed sheets of plastic over the levees to help them hold up against high waves. “It’s important to get as much work done as we can before the storm comes,” DeZellar said.
The week began Monday with much of Fargo shut down, school called off for the entire week and many businesses keeping their doors closed because of the Red River, which was ebbing after its steady, threatening rise last week. With the storm expected to arrive from the west during the afternoon and last through Tuesday evening, many people just wanted things to get back to normal.
“I just think everyone is stir-crazy now,” said resident Kathy Roscoe.
People were especially anxious as it gets tougher to pay the bills after a week of not drawing paychecks. “I’m not sure how I’m going to do it right now,” said 24-year-old hair stylist Amber Fischer said of her paycheck-to-paycheck existence.
The Red River dropped slightly to 39.21 feet early Monday — less than record highs set earlier in the week but still nearly 22 feet above flood stage. City officials have said they would breathe easier when the river falls to 37 feet or lower, expected by Saturday.
“The difficulty with an epic flood is nobody has been through it before,” said city commissioner Tim Mahoney. “You can’t ask someone, ‘Hey, what’s going to happen next?’”
It will be more waiting to see if the levees — quickly constructed last week by Fargo’s men, women and children — can hold firm.
Fargo officials warned people to stay away from the dangerous river. The Coast Guard caught a man paddling a canoe who apparently jumped a levee to get into the water, and authorities threatened to arrest anyone who commits such a crime.
Dave Kolpack/The Associated Press