Fargo students forgo class to help with flood prep

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High school student places sandbags on on dike along the Red River, Fargo, North Dakota. (AP Photo)

High school student places sandbags on on dike along the Red River, Fargo, North Dakota. (AP Photo)

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Hundreds of high school students pitched in Friday to place 100,000 sandbags around Fargo and help protect homes against Red River flooding.

The familiar sandbag party that kicked off what city officials call “tuck it in weekend” began in 2009 when residents fought the first of three straight major floods. Students placed 700,000 sandbags in less than two days during the last flood in 2011. Officials and residents hope not nearly as many are needed this year.

The students sandbagged 134 homes throughout the city Friday and headed back to school after lunch was served by grateful residents such as Glenda Bro. About 40 students, mostly from Fargo North, laughed and sang as they tossed sandbags outside the home where Bro and her husband, a Fargo physician, have lived for 32 years.

Bro said it was a relief to have the sandbagging help, which she called “organized and calm.” The singing helped.

“That’s kind of contagious,” Bro said. “Fear is contagious, and so is a happy spirit.”

The city has reason to be optimistic.

The latest forecast calls for the Red River to reach a water level between 37 and 39 feet, down a foot from the previous crest range. Although the river begins to spill its banks at 18 feet, few structures are threatened until the water level goes above 38 feet, thanks primarily to increased flood protection efforts in recent years.

“The bottom line is we’re in excellent shape to meet the crisis of 2013,” said Dennis Walaker, Fargo mayor.

The river measured 21.7 feet at 2 p.m. Friday. Tim Mahoney, Fargo’s deputy mayor, said the city would be buttoned up by the end of the weekend, then officials will monitor the river on an hourly basis.

“This weekend what we want to do is tuck it in, which means get all our dikes done, get all our sandbagging done, get everything done,” Mahoney said. “And then we wait and watch.”

Many students were happy to be outside on what was the first day where temperatures had reached into the 60s this year.

Fargo North student Ross Ashland, 17, also said he felt good about sandbagging because he was forced to evacuate his house during a record flood in 2009. He was also happy to be outside in a T-shirt for the “first time since winter started.”

Another North student, Tristin Schoenwald, 16, said most of his classmate wanted to start sandbagging Thursday but weren’t complaining about a lower river crest prediction.

“We’re happy to help,” he said. “The community has always been there for us. It’s nice to return the favor.”

One 13-year-old sandbagger, Brooke Peterson, is home-schooled student whose friend lives in the neighborhood.

“It’s great to help. I love it,” she said. “It’s a great workout and I’m getting fresh air.”

City worker Jim Mohr, who directed sandbag placement behind the Bro home, said the students were extremely coachable.

“They get it down pretty quickly,” Mohr said. “It’s great to have them.”

Although workers placed down plywood in an effort to limit damage to the neighborhoods, it wasn’t an issue around Bro’s house because it won’t be around for long. Not too long ago, the city told her the house was low on the priority list for a buyout. But last Saturday, the city agreed to take it off their hands.

“That is an answered prayer because this house wouldn’t sell,” Bro said. “Nobody is going to buy a house on the river in Fargo.”

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