All government levels involved in flood effort

Combating the disaster and rebuilding afterward will require time and resources of the local, state and federal governments.

Amy Klobuchar speaks at a news conference at the Clay County Courthouse on Sunday.

Matt Mead

Amy Klobuchar speaks at a news conference at the Clay County Courthouse on Sunday.

FARGO, N.D. âÄî In 1897, the Red River crested at 40.1 feet, devastating the Fargo-Moorhead area and setting the record for the highest water level the region had ever seen. On March 18, when Fargo officials said they received reports projecting a 39 to 41 foot crest to occur just 10 days later, the future looked grave. âÄúWe thought we were pretty good after 1997, we really understood this river,âÄù Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland said Friday, citing the last major flood to hit the Red River Valley. âÄúWell, we really understand this river to 39.6 feet. Now we’re starting to understand this river at 40.5.âÄù The scramble to prepare the area for record-breaking flood levels required the coordination of county and city officials, the appearance of state-level entities and input from the White House. This combined effort exemplified the deep and complex course the region would have to take to get through the fight and then get back to normal.

Local preparation: Moorhead

Moorhead’s ultimate goal when flood waters rise is to âÄúprotect roads, sewers, parks and other infrastructure.âÄù Specific actions are taken based on the level to which the river rises. Flood control gates and pumping stations are also activated within the city. City Manager Michael Redlinger said the city did not anticipate such a limited amount of time before the river reached its crest âÄî floods most often occur in mid-April. Through a well-run operation, people got out early when potential crises arose. In such cases, Moorhead issued voluntary evacuations and placed law enforcement to secure the areas. The length of the crest, expected to last several days, will challenge the integrity of temporary dikes and will require constant monitoring, Redlinger said. In the time the city had to prepare, temporary earthen and sandbag dikes were constructed to preserve the property closest to the river bank. Volunteers played a key role in the construction process, but 24-hour patrol and maintenance of the infrastructure rested mostly with entities such as the Moorhead Police Department , the Minnesota National Guard and the city engineering department. Moorhead also cooperated with Clay County, which includes Moorhead and its surrounding rural areas.

Local preparation: Fargo

Fargo flood protection occurs in two stages. When the river reaches 18 feet, affected roads close. Dikes are erected when water levels hit 30 feet. The city took several innovative approaches while battling the rising water. For example, City Administrator Patrick Zavoral said they knew sandbags were effective during a flood, but the use of HESCOs âÄî four foot cubes made of fabric that hold sand âÄî was new and turned out to be both efficient and effective. Varying height forecasts and an early thaw posed problems for the flood fighters, but massive volunteer turnouts and cooperation among agencies helped the process run smoothly, officials said.

State government aid

In North Dakota, Governor John Hoeven , Senators Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad and Congressman Earl Pomeroy were present throughout the disaster to support local officials and to mediate between Fargo and the federal government. In Minnesota, Gov. Tim Pawlenty ventured to Moorhead Friday to show his support for the region. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson D-Minn., surveyed the damage and assured the people they were working to get aid on their behalf. Congressional delegates of both states met with President Barack Obama to ensure his attention was on the developing disaster. They worked with Federal Emergency Management Agency members as they assessed the extent of the flood damage. In times of disaster, a governor declares a state of emergency. The governor must implement the stateâÄôs Emergency Operations Plan. It is also within the governor’s role to request that the president issue a major disaster declaration. These actions are the first in a chain of events that officials hope will bring significant federal aid to the state. Before such aid is granted, the governor must supply sufficient evidence that proves the damage to the state is beyond its capacity to finance. Both Pawlenty and Hoeven did this. State government entities of both North Dakota and Minnesota were confident they would receive the level of aid they will need.

Federal government aid

When the governor declares a state of emergency, FEMA is dispatched to survey the damage. Its findings may be used by the governor as necessary evidence for a major disaster declaration. Before this can be declared, FEMA must conduct a formal assessment of the damage. FEMA director Nancy Ward visited the Fargo-Moorhead area last Friday and Saturday. This report is given to the president to consider before changing the state’s disaster status. Obama issued such a declaration for North Dakota last week. He also issued an emergency declaration for Minnesota, where major disaster status is pending. With major disaster status, states qualify for disaster relief funds and services. FEMA spokesperson Debbie Wing said aid may come in the form of public assistance, which helps rebuild infrastructure, or individual assistance, which aids citizens whose property incurred damage.