Updated: 04/27/2013 10:59 PM KSTP.com By: Cassie Hart
Fargo officials made one last call for sandbaggers Saturday to help residents in a southwest Fargo neighborhood that's a mile away from the rising Red River but needs protection from a nearby coulee.
The final preparations came on a day when the National Weather Service said the Red River appears to have crested about 50 miles upstream of Fargo, and it came in lower than expected. The river likely reached its peak in Wahpeton at lower than 14.5 feet after initial forecasts - before a favorable snowmelt pattern and a downward trend in precipitation - placed the crest at 17 feet.
City officials said the upstream crest report was good news, but Fargo fire Capt. Randy Weiss said flood fighters were respecting the weather service's predicted range of a 37-to-39-foot peak in Fargo. Weiss joked that the gambling line around the fire hall was between 36 and 37 feet.
"We make pop bets at the fire station every day. That's about how much we follow it," Weiss said. "They're the professionals at the weather service. We're going to go with them."
Although most structures in Fargo are protected to 39 feet, workers are building miles of clay levees and volunteers are sandbagging at least 134 homes as an insurance policy. The last of the sandbag preparation was being done Saturday in the Oakcreek neighborhood, where 16,000 sandbags were expected to be placed.
"We couldn't have better weather for doing this, obviously," Weiss said of the first 70-degree day of the year, which came one day after the mercury topped 50 degrees for the first time in 2013. "We've got a lot accomplished. We've had a lot of volunteers and they've been happy to do it."
Fargo residents battled three straight major floods beginning with a record crest of 40.84 feet in 2009. Since then, the city has built 14 miles of permanent levees and bought out hundreds of homes in low-lying areas, including a handful this year in the Oakcreek area.
Resident Rusty Papachek received help from neighbors Saturday to place a small sandbag dike near the pool in his Oakcreek backyard. He said he has been offered a buyout from the city but would like to stay in his house at least until his youngest child graduates from high school next year.
"It's a great neighborhood," he said. "I think it has some of the best lots in the city."
Ursula Hegvik, who lives down the street, said neighbors were having a good time in the sandbag line.
"You've got to save the neighborhood," she said, smiling. "I love the camaraderie and everybody coming together. It's kind of fun."
The Red River was measured at 26.46 feet on Saturday afternoon on its way to a crest perhaps on Wednesday. Weiss said the city should be finished with the last defense measures by Monday.
"Fargo has done this many years," Weiss said. "Fargo is actually getting pretty good at it."
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