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Midwest bracing for spring flooding

By Dave Kolpack and Jim Suhr
Associated Press / March 6, 2010

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FARGO, N.D. - Spring could bring disastrous flooding again to the Upper Midwest, government forecasters are warning. And folks along the Red, the Mississippi, and the Missouri rivers are taking precautions, especially after calamities last year and the year before.

“This is like having a two-month warning that a tornado is going to hit your house,’’ said Richard Thomas, who lives near Fargo. “There’s always the possibility we’ll be just fine, but it’s bothering me. It’s stressful.’’

The National Weather Service said heavy snow cover and ground that is already saturated could lead to severe flooding in as little as a few weeks. Exactly how severe will depend on how fast the snow melts and how heavy the spring rains are.

In Fargo and neighboring Moorhead, Minn., an area of about 200,000 people, the chances of major flooding were projected yesterday at about 90 percent. The probability of record flooding was put at 19 percent. Elsewhere across the Upper Midwest, the threat is less dire but still serious.

In dozens of towns from Missouri north through the Dakotas to the Canadian border, homeowners, farmers, and business owners are putting aside normal business to deal with a hazard they know all too well.

During March and April last year, rivers and streams burst their banks in North Dakota and Minnesota, forcing millions to evacuate, damaging hundreds of homes, and causing an estimated $100 million in damage. At least three deaths were attributed to the rising waters.

“I think people are still shell-shocked from last year,’’ said Cecily Fong, spokeswoman for the North Dakota Emergency Services Department.

Some of the 4 million bushels of grain stockpiled in a World War II-era river terminal in Meyer, Ill., are being sent to storage sites inland, said Gerald Jenkins, overseer of the Ursa Farmers Cooperative. But he said it can’t all be moved to safety in time. Ice jams on the Mississippi slowed barge traffic.