FARGO, N.D. – Marc Shannon says the prospect of using a sandbag wall to protect his Fargo home from the rising Red River doesn't seem so alarming. Not after last year, when the city dealt with record flooding and Shannon had to maneuver around a 10-foot-high clay dike that cut his house off from the outside world.
"We're all feeling pretty calm compared to last year," Shannon said Monday, while preparing to melt ice in his backyard to make room for a sandbag dike. "Without that clay dike in the streets this year, this is going to be a walk in the park."
Police escorted convoys of flatbed trucks carrying piles of sandbags into neighborhoods Monday as the cities of Fargo in eastern North Dakota and neighboring Moorhead, Minn., went into flood-fighting mode. The Red River is expected to crest Saturday about 20 feet above the flood stage, meaning the rising waters flowing over the river's banks could threaten nearby houses, roads and parks.
Last year, about 100 homes in the area were damaged and thousands of people were evacuated after the Red River rose above the flood stage for a record 61 days and crested twice. Officials say they are better prepared this year for flooding thanks to early stockpiling of sandbags and the building of stronger levees across the region.
"This year, the dike we'll have to build will be 3 feet less than last year," Shannon said. "It's manageable."
Miles of clay levees, more than 1 million sandbags and portable wall systems will be used to help protect an area of about 200,000 people in Cass County, N.D., and Clay County, Minn. Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist said a handful of residents outside the city left their houses mainly because they don't want to be stranded by overland flooding.
"Everybody has to understand that this is for real," Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said after a briefing with city and county officials.
In Minnesota, Gov. Tim Pawlenty declared a state of emergency Monday in 28 counties affected by potential flooding across western, southern, central and eastern parts of the state. The order activated the National Guard to help with flood preparations and provide emergency relief.
Fargo resident Karry Hoganson was chopping down an evergreen tree in his neighbor's backyard to help make room for a sandbag dike. When he bought his house in 2002, Hoganson said historical figures showed he would be sandbagging once every 10 years. But it's been more like every other year, he said.
"I chose to live on the river. I'm not looking for sympathy," he said. "I bought it for the view. I love it here."
Palates of sandbags lined streets and cul-de-sacs in several neighborhoods of higher-end homes along the river in south Fargo. Dan Sholy, who was hired to help unload the trucks, said some people have been clearing out their backyards to make room for the sandbags, which weigh about 20 pounds each.
Over the next few days, residents will stack the sandbags -- in Hoganson's neighborhood the dike will be 9 feet wide and 3 feet high -- in an attempt to keep the river's waters away from their homes.
"Right now they're are getting everything all flagged and marked for the dikes," Sholy said. "We'll have volunteers coming in tomorrow so there's going to be lot of action here."