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Published April 01, 2009, 12:00 AM

Fargo residents allowed to go home

Homeowners urged to leave dikes in place
Mary Ekstrom was visiting her living room Tuesday afternoon, looking at the floodwaters outside lapping against a sandbag wall 8 feet away, when a police officer knocked at her door with good news.

By: By Patrick Springer and Dave Olson, INFORUM

Mary Ekstrom was visiting her living room Tuesday afternoon, looking at the floodwaters outside lapping against a sandbag wall 8 feet away, when a police officer knocked at her door with good news.

Ekstrom and her neighbors in Fargo’s Belmont neighborhood got the OK to return to their homes. They’d been evacuated at 2:09 a.m. Friday after a leak was discovered in an earthen dike a few blocks away.

Inch by inch, as the nearby Red River continued its gradual slide, life was regaining some sense of normalcy in this neighborhood of 148 homes south of Fargo’s water treatment plant.

But normal is a relative term for an area that finds itself patrolled by National Guard soldiers and sandwiched between a permanent dike and a contingency floodwall.

Ekstrom, who stayed at a friend’s house after spending her first night in a shelter, was relieved the area apparently was spared winds high enough to threaten the integrity of the 10 or 12 layers of sandbags stacked on top of the earthen levee in her backyard.

“Water pressure is amazing,” she said, noting the winds would have compounded the considerable pressure the swollen river has imposed on the emergency floodwalls coursing through the city.

Ekstrom, a state representative, applauded the stubbornness of city officials who refused to issue a mass evacuation for the city, which once faced a possible predicted crest of 43 feet.

“We would have lost the city had we gone,” she said, also giving thanks to neighbors who stuck around to keep pumps running when others left the neighborhood after the Code Red evacuation.

A few houses away on South River Road, Kevin Berg stood in his driveway and felt a respite as the river kept its gradual decline even after a snowstorm dumped about 10 inches of wet snow on Fargo-Moorhead as of Tuesday afternoon.

“Right now I’m 4½ feet above the river,” Berg said. His garage, filled with lawn chairs and camping chairs, has served as a warm-up station for the Guard soldiers who have been keeping watch in the neighborhood.

“I feel much better in my own home,” Pauline Berg said, “even though my basement is in my living room.”

The Bergs stayed with Kevin’s sister in Dilworth and made periodic visits to check on their home before moving back Sunday.

Residents of the Belmont and River Vili neighborhoods were allowed to return home Tuesday after the river dipped below 38 feet.

Others heading home

On Tuesday, as their neighbors were coming back, the Bergs also noticed other returnees: hundreds of robins, back for spring, chirping away in nearby trees.

Fargo officials said Tuesday that about 2,500 vulnerable individuals who were evacuated for the flood will be returned to their homes starting this week, some as early as Thursday.

“We feel very comfortable bringing them back,” said Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker, adding that he expects the river will soon reach 30 or 31 feet.

Walaker said it is important for people with special needs to return to stability as soon as possible.

“It’s been a long time for them,” he said.

Deputy Mayor Tim Mahoney said although the picture is brightening, homeowners should not take down their dikes.

“As much as people want to restore their yards, do not take the dikes down,” Mahoney said.

Aaron Rasmussen can see part of the city’s dike fortifications from his driveway at 1435 S. River Road in the Belmont neighborhood.

On Tuesday, Rasmussen was blowing snow out of his driveway so his wife and young daughter, staying with family in Horace, could return.

“The kids are definitely ready to come home,” he said. He was relieved to return home to a dry basement but doesn’t plan on moving things back to his lower level until the Red River, expected to swell again after the heavy snow, has receded to a safe level.

“We’re going to wait awhile, wait for it to crest again,” Rasmussen said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555