FARGO (AP) - Fargo officials said Monday they are resuming sandbag-filling operations to protect against spring flooding because of last week's snowstorm and the prediction for more precipitation later this week.
Mayor Dennis Walaker said his opinion on the severity of flooding "changed dramatically" after Sunday's spring storm dumped nearly a foot of snow on some areas in the Red River Valley, where residents are expecting their fourth major flood in five years.
"We don't want anybody, in my opinion, to panic," Walaker said at Monday's city commission meeting. "We can no longer dance around the flagpole without doing some things that need to be done."
The city had been preparing for the Red River to peak in Fargo and neighboring Moorhead, Minn., at 38 feet, or 20 feet above flood stage, based on last month's probabilistic forecast by the National Weather Service. City officials are now shooting for protection to 41 feet - and figure they have less than two weeks to get there.
"We can do it, but we need to get going," city engineer Mark Bittner said. "I have been concerned about this one since February. It's just different."
It would be the largest crest of the river in city history, surpassing the April 19 peak in 1979, the 10th highest flood on record. Although an official update on water in the basin is expected in the next couple of days, the city said it's time to start making more sandbags.
"We have never, ever had a significant flood in the month of May," Walaker said. "The weather is extremely dynamic."
Greg Gust, a meteorologist with the weather service, said it's likely that flooding could begin next week.
"There is a fair amount of trickle that has begun under these sloppy conditions," Gust said Monday.
Work at Sandbag Central, a city storage facility that has been converted into a massive work area, was put on hold last week after volunteers filled more than a million bags in nine days. Plans are to resume operations Wednesday and fill another 500,000 bags.
"We haven't come off that sandbag high yet," said Bruce Grubb, the city's enterprise director who runs Sandbag Central. "We would like to strike while the iron is hot."
The additional sandbags would increase the city's total to 1.8 million.
Residents in the area battled three straight years of major flooding, beginning with a record-setting crest of nearly 41 feet in 2009 that forced thousands to evacuate and inundated 100 homes. Since then the city has improved its flood protection by building levees and buying out homes in flood-prone areas.
However, the decision to increase the levees to 41 feet will mean sandbagging for hundreds of residents.
"I don't know about anyone else but I was extremely annoyed with the foot of snow on my vehicle this morning," Walaker said.