Fargo looks at transition from 'high alert' to 'alert' status as Red falls
FARGO - Flood fighting tensions eased this morning among officials leading the effort, despite the uncertainty of how a winter storm will impact the region.
The city backed off its high alert status, slightly downgrading to alert status as the Red River continues its descent.
The latest reading for the Red River was 39.16 feet in Fargo, down from the record crest of 40.82 feet early Saturday.
However, there are real concerns about how winter conditions will impact the continued flood fight, prompting:
E Fargo officials to call on all non-essential businesses to remain closed through Wednesday
E The Cass County Sheriff's Office wants anyone who believes they can't ride out the upcoming storm to seek evacuation help this morning by calling (701) 241-5793
E Warnings to stay off the Red River, as the U.S. Coast Guard plans to put regulations into place that would enforce federal penalties
Sheriff Paul Laney said one person was found canoeing on the Red on Sunday, and the person would have needed to climb a levee to get on the river.
"A lot of work went into putting the levees in place," Laney said. "If somebody wants to test it (federal law), we have a place for you to stay."
A winter storm is forecast to hit the Fargo-Moorhead area by later today, dumping 8 to 14 inches of snow and bring howling winds up to 35 mph.
Mike Hudson of the National Weather Service said the storm could last through tomorrow.
"The wind is definitely going to be a concern, especially on those north and west facing areas with waves on the Red River," he said.
The snow likely won't have much impact on the river level, but windswept waves could have significant impact on levees, particularly in rural areas.
Fargo leaders said they are looking at transitioning from fighting the flood to city services, but clearing roads during the upcoming storm could be difficult as the emphasis remains on thoroughfares used by trucks and heavy equipment.
"If the focus has to be on the flood, we don't want to lose the fight now," City Commissioner Tim Mahoney said.
Officials also talked about trying to get the city and its residents back to normal, urging people who need help to seek it.
"No one has lived through this kind of flood," Mahoney said. "This is an epic flood."
The commissioner, who also is the vice mayor, said the city will transition from high alert to alert status.
Mayor Dennis Walaker, who offered apologies for comments that might have offended some, said he took responsibility for attempts at humor.
"To succeed, we must remain positive," said Walaker, who put on a University of North Dakota cap.
But he also emphasized how impressed he was with flood fighters, especially with those with sandbag levees in their backyards.
"I'm certainly happy with the incredible resolve of those families," Walaker said. "They are the first line of defense."
In addition, he extended thanks to people who poured into the community to help during the last week.
"It is very emotion to see the expansion of our community from Bismarck to Grand Forks to Minneapolis," Walaker said. "I could not be more proud of our partners, our residents and our friends all over."
As the river begins its descent, talk among leaders also turned to returning the community to normal, hoping to allow residents in south Fargo to return to their homes and bringing back vulnerable residents who were evacuated last week.
Those decisions, though, may need to wait until after the upcoming winter storm.
City leaders also want to see the river drop below 36 feet before letting down their guard. The North Dakota National Guard will continue to monitor dikes, operate sump pumps and provide quick-response teams on stand-by to address any issues.
"We need to get through this storm and have some confidence in the river" levels before the city lets down its guard, Walaker said.
Fargo School Superintendent Rick Buresh said the district wants to get students back to class quickly, but again the weather will be a factor.
The district's buildings and buses have been dedicated to the flood fighting effort, and school has been called off for the week, he said.
Fargo Police Chief Keith Ternes again advocated for motorists to stay off roads as much as possible.
Bruce Grubb, enterprise director for Fargo, said there was a tremendous turnout for volunteers Sunday, building up the city's inventory of sandbags to 450,000.
"A sincere thank you to our volunteers," Grubb said. "That was truly amazing."
Volunteers turned out to produce about 3.5 million sandbags.