Fargo: Bad News From Forecasters, Evacuation Plans and Facebook

The news in Fargo, North Dakota tonight isn’t good. Forecasters are adding two feet to the estimated crest of the Red River. The original 41 foot crest would just stay behind sand bags. That is now sadly not the case.

With the new estimates of the river cresting at 43 feet the town is in serious danger of flooding.

Thousands of volunteers have been building a sandbag dike around North Dakota’s largest city. The dike will now have to be built even higher if the city is to remain flood free.

The National Weather Service issued the warning late Thursday that the river could crest at 43 feet up two inches from earlier predictions. The news doesn’t get better. The weather service also warns that the water levels could remain that high for as long as a week.

AP reports:

“Record flows upstream of Fargo have produced unprecedented conditions” on the river, which “is expected to behave in ways never previously observed,” the weather service said.

Governor John Hoeven is requesting an additional 500 National Guard members to join the 900 already working night and day to protect the city.

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker was shocked with the latest weather news according to an AP report.

“Is this a wakeup call? People can’t take many more wakeup calls,” he said. But Walaker also said the forecast didn’t seem to match what he had seen in the Red’s tributaries earlier in the day.

“This is the worst-case scenario,” he said. “Right now, I’m going to stick with 41,” he said.

Thursday afternoon Mayor Walaker unveiled a contingency evacuation plan. Four nursing homes have already put their own plan in action, moving their patients out of the river’s path.

The Chronicle reports:

“A few of them said they didn’t want to go. I said I’m going where the crowd goes,” said 98-year-old Margaret “Dolly” Beaucage, who clasped rosary beads as she waited to leave Elim Care Center.

“I’m a swimmer,” she said, smiling, “but not that good a swimmer.”

The temperature isn’t helping with the dike project either. With subzero temperatures the sandbags had gotten frozen earlier this week making it more difficult to stack as tightly as they are needed to be. People have been observed slamming bags on the ground to break the sand up. Now as the people move at an even faster pace in a race against the river the sandbags don’t have time to freeze.

Walaker is taking his chances against the river. He’s hoping that Mother Nature is a kind bookie.

“I was asked for odds last night,” he said. “I would say we got a simple 3-, maybe 4-to-1 chance of beating this — and those are good odds at any race track in the United States.”

As the river rages help is coming from of all places, Facebook. Kevin Tobosa suggested the social network when city officials needed volunteers at the various dikes around Fargo. The Facebook group has over 4,550 members checking in to see where they are most needed.

MSNBC reports:

“We really need volunteers again today to get the dikes buttoned up and fill the rest of the sandbags,” read a message sent to the group Thursday.

Volunteers are using Facebook and Twitter to stay on the ball and connected as they work against the rising water.

“Oftentimes, the government Web sites and phone lines are overloaded and don’t have the capacity to answer all the queries,” said Jeannette Sutton, a University of Colorado sociologist who has researched the use of social networking in emergencies.

“A site like Facebook is so robust, it has the strength to support this kind of usage,” she said.

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