North Dakota braces for major flooding by Tuesday

Mon Mar 15, 2010 6:50pm EDT
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By Rod Nickel

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Melting snow will cause major flooding along the Red River in North Dakota by Tuesday with water levels just below the record set in 2009 during one of the worst floods in the state's history, the National Weather Service said on Monday.

The flood waters will not only endanger homes but could also delay the planting of spring wheat and sugar beets in an important U.S. farming region.

The early melt has hastened flood-fighting preparations in Fargo, which has filled 740,000 sandbags in about two weeks, said the city's communications manager Karena Carlson. Volunteers will start piling the sandbags into dikes on Tuesday with the help of 300 to 400 National Guard troops.

"Things are happening a little earlier than we anticipated, but with enough volunteers, I think we'll be able to get things done," she said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has started building dikes of dirt and clay to protect public infrastructure like roads and water plants in parts of North Dakota and Minnesota, said spokesman Mark Davidson.

A year ago, flooding caused the evacuation of hundreds of homes in North Dakota, including some by helicopter. A lower forecasted crest means that's not likely this year, said Lieutenant-Colonel Rick Smith of the North Dakota National Guard.

"We are prepared to do that if called upon ... but I don't foresee that."

Farmers could not plant crops last year on 464,000 acres in the Red River valley's 12 counties in North Dakota and Minnesota, according to the USDA's Risk Management Agency. That included 215,000 unplanted acres that were insured for corn, 97,000 wheat acres and 68,000 soybean acres.   Continued...