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Concordia students Amy Luther, from left, Amy Freeman, Kelly Kalvoda and Andrea Rognlien fill sandbags Monday inside the Fargodome. The Red River is expected to crest at a record level at the end of this week, threatening hundreds of homes in low-lying areas of Fargo and its outskirts. Michael Vosberg/The Forum

Fargo looking to system used in war zones to keep back Red River

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Woodbury, 55125
Woodbury Minnesota 8420 City Centre Drive 55125

FARGO, N.D. -- 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.

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"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 -- 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."

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