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Red River Crests in North Dakota, Floodwaters Recede

FARGO, N.D. - The Red River crested in Fargo on Sunday without doing major damage as flood fears started to recede.

The river topped out at just under 37 feet, or 19 feet over flood stage on Sunday afternoon — well below the city's flood defenses, the National Weather Service said.

"We're bobbling downward," weather service spokesman Greg Gust said. He said the river appeared to be starting a "very slow decline through the remainder of the day."

The Red spilled from its banks last week due to runoff from a rapid snowmelt, but it did not rise nearly as much as it did last year when record-breaking floods forced thousand to evacuate the region.

City officials have been on the brink of declaring victory this year, and the region was hoping for mostly dry weather to speed the river's fall by week's end. The forecast was cooperating, with only a small chance of rain in sight over the next few days.

That was good news to residents of North Dakota's largest city, who worried that the Red could stay at its crest for several days, straining temporary levees and sandbag dikes.

Flooding this year has been limited mostly to areas just along the Red River in Fargo and neighboring Moorhead, Minn., where 3-feet-high piles of sandbags have prevented the water from reaching homes. Some yards, bike paths and sports fields have flooded — but without major damage.

In rural areas outside Fargo, more widespread overland flooding from the Red River's smaller tributaries submerged several farm fields and washed out a few roads.

Officials have said they were better prepared for this year's floods than the ones in 2009. 

Thousands of volunteers filled and placed sandbags and the Army Corps of Engineers built dozens of clay dikes. After the preparations were largely complete, the weather service lowered its crest prediction several times as below-freezing temperatures slowed the melting of snow and skies were free of major rain storms.

Despite feeling confident, Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker has cautioned residents and officials against celebrating too early and warned people not to take down sandbag dikes and temporary levees just yet.