Flood waters reach 112-year high in Fargo

Fri Mar 27, 2009 7:30pm EDT
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FARGO, North Dakota (Reuters) - Hundreds of residents of North Dakota and Minnesota evacuated their homes on Friday as the Red River rose to its highest level in 112 years in the key wheat and sugar beet growing region.

The Red River topped its record of 40.1 feet set in 1897 in Fargo on Friday morning and was at 40.73 feet as of 4:15 p.m. CDT. The river is expected to crest by Saturday at 42 feet.

"In terms of natural disasters that can strike this country, floods are just the worst, at least in my experience," U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told Reuters in an interview in Washington.

"It is a horrible human tragedy to watch this," he said. "I think the folks in North Dakota and Minnesota have done an extraordinary job in trying to protect against this."

The Red River flows north from southeast North Dakota into Canada's Lake Winnipeg, forming the border between North Dakota and Minnesota. Fargo-Moorhead, with a metropolitan population of 175,000, is the largest city in the U.S. side of the valley.

The river is located in an ancient lakebed and because it flows north, it is especially prone to flooding as water freezes as it moves north into Canada. Its banks are not very high and flood waters can spread out huge distances over the flat landscape.

Water is seeping through the ground in at least six locations along dikes on both sides of the Red River, said Frank Worley, spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That's normal and remains under control, he said.

Worley said the crack in the dike was never leaking, correcting a statement he made Friday morning.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a contingency dike behind the one with a crack, Worley added.   Continued...

<p>Gerri Dyrdahl walks home after finishing filling sandbags on a levy that protects a neighborhood on the northside of Fargo, North Dakota on the Red River, March 27, 2009. REUTERS/Allen Fredrickson</p>