Another N.D. town battling rising river

National Guard reinforces dikes; residents evacuate

Sandbags covered the parking lot of the Fargodome, an indoor football stadium and concert arena, in Fargo, N.D., last week. Sandbags covered the parking lot of the Fargodome, an indoor football stadium and concert arena, in Fargo, N.D., last week. (Dave Kolpack/ Associated Press)
By Dave Kolpack
Associated Press / April 14, 2009
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VALLEY CITY, N.D. - Earthmoving equipment and National Guard helicopters hauled sand yesterday to reinforce leaky dikes that led to evacuations of two parts of town threatened by the Sheyenne River, the latest North Dakota stream to rise above its banks.

Twice in 12 hours police knocked on doors, urging people to get out.

"It was just kind of disbelief, actually," said chiropractor Jeff Brown, who lives near one dike that had to be repaired Sunday night. He said he was in his backyard Sunday afternoon when "my daughter stuck her head out the window and said 'Dad, we have to evacuate.' "

Police came around with bullhorns to warn residents "like a scene out of a movie," he said.

Brown and his family packed up their belongings and headed to his parents' home on higher ground.

They were allowed to return yesterday after repairs to the nearby dike, but earlier in the day a weak spot developed in a dike near Valley City State University and residents of another part of town were told to leave while crews reinforced the dike.

Mayor Mary Lee Nielson did not know how many people evacuated in the town of 6,875 people. She said officials advised the evacuation because "we always err on the side of caution and get people out of harm's way when we can."

The Sheyenne was headed for a crest about 22 feet in the next couple of days in Valley City, the National Weather Service said. At that height, the city might have to close all but one of its 11 scenic bridges, officials said.

It is the latest threat from rivers swollen by melting snow that already have washed out roads, damaged homes and turned farmsteads into islands around North Dakota. The weather service issued a flood warning Sunday for large parts of western and central North Dakota.

The Sheyenne River empties into the Red River, expected to reach a second flood crest of its own near Fargo this week.

The Red River crested at Fargo and neighboring Moorhead, Minn., late last month just short of 41 feet, after volunteers filled thousands of sandbags to raise levees above that mark. The Red River's second crest at Fargo is projected to reach about 38 feet or 39 feet, slightly lower than earlier forecasts.