Fargo declares state of emergency today as rain floods streets

FARGO, N.D. (AP) -- Officials in this city declared a state of emergency Tuesday after heavy rain flooded streets and power substations.

The city got about 7 inches of rain in a six-hour period, Mayor Bruce Furness said.

The Fargodome, the city’s major arena, had about 6 feet of water on its main floor, executive director Paul Johnson said. Water came in the back loading dock area, and tables, turf and other equipment was under water.

``We really have a mess at the Fargodome,’’ Johnson said.

Interstate 29 was closed from Fargo to the South Dakota border, and southbound from Mayville, north of Fargo.

Fargo’s operations director, Dennis Walaker, said it would take at least 16 hours for the city’s sanitary sewer system to recover from what he called a 100-year rain. The sanitary lift stations are ``way beyond high water lines,’’ he said.

State emergency manager Doug Friez said the National Guard was helping the area with heavy equipment and pumps.

The National Weather Service issued a flood warning for the Red River in the Fargo area as well as for the Sheyenne River downstream of Kindred to the Red, and the Maple River downstream of Enderlin to the Red.

At 7 a.m., the weather service said, the Red was at 20.7 feet in Fargo, up about 3 feet from midnight. Flood stage is 17 feet.

The downpour cut off power for about 20,000 Fargo-area residents, but Northern States Power Co. officials said power had been restored to all but about 500 residents by 7 a.m.

Hundreds of people found themselves stranded when their vehicles stalled on flooded streets.

Ambert Bernhardt of Bismarck was with a group that went sightseeing.

``We got stuck,’’ she said.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota closed its main headquarters in Fargo as well as two Medicare operation centers, after its building took on water.

``Crews are trying to protect the main computers and shut them down,’’ spokesman Larry Gauper said.

At North Dakota State University, workers in wading boots tried to save the school’s archives after flooding at the library.

Across the Red River in Minnesota, Moorhead State University declared a state of emergency and canceled classes.

Some buildings had a little water in them, but officials’ main concern was a retention pond that was full of water and overflowing, said Dean Palmer, an office assistant in the school’s physical plant. People were sandbagging the pond Tuesday morning.

``If that were to go you’d be in serious trouble. There’d be a lot of homes that would be gone,’’ Palmer said.

Some Moorhead streets had standing water but the storm drains were ``doing their job and we’re getting rid of the water pretty quickly,’’ said Clay County sheriff’s Lt. Jerome Thorsen.

``I walked through at least one place that was at least 3 feet deep,’’ Thorsen said. Still, no one had to be rescued, he said. ``People are just kind of riding it out.’’ He said flooding problems appeared worse in North Dakota.

Fargo police rushed to assist drivers who became stranded on flooded streets. In clogged underpasses, manhole covers blew off from the pressure of overflowing sewers. Fargo dispatchers got one report of a man bleeding from the head after being struck by one of the manhole covers.

Water reached 3 feet deep in many underpasses, said Sgt. Kevin Volrath.

``Some people aren’t heeding the seriousness of the situation and don’t understand the mechanical limits of their vehicles and are getting stranded,’’ he said.

A funnel cloud that was first spotted in southeastern Cass County moved through Fargo and into Minnesota, said Al Voelker, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Forks.

Voelker said conditions were ripe for the storm, and it was only a matter of time before severe weather hit the region.

``We’ve been expecting this for several days,’’ he said. ``It was just time for this to develop.’’

To the north, residents in Manvel, north of Grand Forks, have been battling flooding from the Turtle River for about a week. But Tuesday morning, they were hoping it was over, Mayor Stan Dockter said.

``Mainly now, it’s affecting the Red River. The Red River doesn’t have a lot of effect on us,’’ Dockter said. ``I’m cautiously optimistic we’ll be all right.’’

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