Fargo turns to wall system to help hold back Red

A portable wall system that shielded troops in Iraq and Afghanistan from bullets is being used to hold back floodwaters from the Red River.

FARGO, N.D. (AP) âÄî A portable wall system that shielded troops in Iraq and Afghanistan from bullets is being used to hold back floodwaters from the Red River. At least one city official believes the results will be the same. “I think it’s going to be a lifesaver,” Al Weigel, Fargo’s director of operations, said Monday as volunteers worked to help protect the city from what’s predicted to be record flooding. The latest projection from the National Weather Service has the Red cresting in Fargo at 40 feet early Friday. An emergency dike to protect downtown was being raised to 42 feet, but the crest threatens several neighborhoods and hundreds of homes in lower areas. Flood stage is 18 feet. The river was at 25 feet Monday and rising. The portable wall system is made up of 3- and 4-foot-high interlocking containers with heavy steel frames covered by high-tech material. It took workers just half an hour Monday to set up about 1,000 feet of the containers. “They are unbelievably quick,” Weigel said. “Any doubts you may have about it are gone when you see the amount of sand that it holds. It’s a nice system.” The system was designed for erosion control, but quickly became a popular product for the military, said Stephanie Victory, a spokeswoman for Hesco Bastion. Its first meaningful test for flood protection came last summer in Iowa, she said. “It’s collapsible and easy to move,” Fargo City Administrator Pat Zavoral said. “That’s the beauty of this stuff.” Hesco officials said they were prepared to help install 10 miles of containers, but city officials said they would likely use a total of about 7 miles and at a dozen different sites. One drawback is that the system needs fairly level ground, Weigel said. “There’s certain areas where it makes more sense to use clay or sandbags,” Weigel said. High school and college students were let out of class Monday to help with sandbagging. City officials planned to fill more than 1 million sandbags, but with more rain forecast they increased the need to nearly 2 million sandbags âÄî about 500,000 each day by the end of the week. North Dakota State University canceled classes and told students that transportation would be provided to and from volunteer sites. Busloads of students from Fargo high schools also were excused from classes to help with sandbagging. One of the hotspots is Oakport Township north of Moorhead, Minn., where residents were evacuated by boat during the Red River flood of 1997. Homeowner Barb Groth was helping volunteers fill sandbags near her home in Oakport on Monday morning. “We’re considered the dry side of the township, but we flooded anyway in 1997. This flood is supposed to be worse,” Groth said. “We’re nervous. We’re thinking we need to do something.” Luke Gable, a junior at nearby Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton High School, was given the option of studying or sandbagging in Oakport Township. He said school can wait. “Everyone needs help right now,” Gable said. “We’ve got fresh legs and fresh arms.” In Fargo, the city was operating three large machines capable of producing 15,000 sandbags an hour. Sand was also being piled on the floor of the Fargodome for people to shovel into bags the old-fashioned way. “We’re confident that we can get the bags delivered,” said Bruce Grubb, a city public works official coordinating the sandbag-making. “Getting them made is a more daunting challenge.” The Minnesota National Guard was sending more than 200 soldiers to the Red River Valley to help with the flood fight, and the North Dakota Guard said about 250 members were ready. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty traveled to Moorhead and Breckenridge on Monday to be briefed on flood preparations. In an interview, Pawlenty said local officials have “been down this path before,” and are well-prepared. But he said there’s still work to be done. “They still need volunteers. The ones who are filling sandbags are getting cold and tired,” Pawlenty said. “Everybody’s doing all that they can to prepare, but these things are unpredictable.” The north-flowing Red’s high water was expected to reach Breckenridge and Wahpeton, N.D., which lies across the river, by Tuesday morning. Both cities were hit hard by flooding in 1997, but city officials said they were holding their own.