FARGO — Cass County Emergency Services Manager Jim Prochniak knows there's the possibility of a "dual-headed monster" this spring with a Red River flood fight and dealing with the coronavirus.
"I don't think people expected the virus to get to this level," he said.
Though the monster could lie ahead, county and city officials believe they are prepared and can face the situations simultaneously in the coming weeks.
"I think we're sitting pretty well," said County Engineer Jason Benson about the possible flood battle.
He was especially satisfied that the sandbag filling operations with the city were completed late last week before the virus scare became more prevalent.
"That was the big piece," he said about getting the 225,000 county and city sandbags filled, which might have been a challenge this week.
Benson, however, warned rural residents to prepare for overland flooding and having generators and pumps ready if using ring dikes. He said the county will be ready with small teams to deploy filled sandbags or a load of sand along with sandbags to residents.
Those residents usually find family or friends to help, but that's often a smaller group, he said, so social distancing guidelines can be met. However, because of the virus scare, Benson said public meetings around the county won't be held as in past years. Instead, video message updates will be posted on the county website. County staff and deputies are also available to meet with residents in emergencies or as flood conditions change.
Greg Gust, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, said the agency will offer twice-a-week flood outlook status reports on Mondays and Thursdays. As the cooler days finish out this week, Gust said the gentle thaw cycle similar to last year is continuing, which is good news.
However, what's worrying to Benson and also to Fargo's flood-fighting city engineer Nathan Boerboom is the snow that still remains, as well as saturated soils and the possibility for a significant rainfall when the major melt occurs. There still is a 10% chance for a Red River flood of about 38 feet at Fargo, which could cause problems and require more sandbagging and levees.
"We're kind of just sitting and waiting," Boerboom said.
He said the city, though, won't need hundreds of volunteers like in 2009 and 2011, when 1 million sandbags were needed. With the virus scare, that could have been a problem.
Boerboom also said technology is improved so planners and other officials can coordinate if the flood situation does worsen and their offices are closed.
Benson still worries about overland flooding in the Kindred, Mapleton and Harwood areas, with roads possibly closing and property threatened. Last year, 166 miles of county roads were closed as well as a similar number of township roads. Residents need to prepare by having boats ready or finding alternate routes home, he said.
Prochniak said the county's tactical operations center at the county law enforcement center in north Fargo and the emergency operations center at the metro public safety building in northwest Fargo are ready to go if needed. The tactical center would begin operations if the Red River hits 32 feet, while the more "grand-scale" emergency operations center that would open at 36 feet was last employed in 2009 and 2011.
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