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Flood turns Oslo, Minn., into island

Volunteers busy fortifying dikes with clay ahead of river crest...

Volunteers busy fortifying dikes with clay ahead of river crest

OSLO, Minn. - Arden Hoff showed some solidarity with this northwestern Minnesota city this weekend, staying overnight Saturday with one friend and offering encouragement to others Sunday - but by late morning, it was time to leave.

"They're dry in Oslo. They've got good dikes," he said after slowly maneuvering his pickup over Minnesota Highway 1, which had water flowing over the roadway just east of town and technically was a closed route as of late Saturday.

"I'm trying to get the heck out of here," he said. "And I ain't going back to Oslo until the water goes down."

With access from the west shut off Friday except for boat ferries, and with the roadblocks posted now to the east, Oslo has acquired its anticipated island status.

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Make that an occupied island: Personnel from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are in town, working with local officials and about a dozen National Guard troops - with more on the way today - to monitor dikes and fret over a long, thick and threatening ice jam on the Red River.

Officials have ruled out using explosives on the jam, which could pose danger to bridges, but there was talk about using airdrops to break up some of the ice.

The Red River at Oslo stood at 38.07 feet at 7 a.m. Sunday, up 0.18 since 4:15 p.m. Saturday and slightly above the record 1997 crest of 38 feet. But by 11:15 a.m. it had slipped to 37.98 feet.

The National Weather Service projects a crest of 38.9 feet Thursday, with that level continuing for several days.

Rodney Cote, Oslo fire chief, said National Guard soldiers and volunteers were busy Sunday fortifying dikes with clay to bring them to 44 feet on the river side and helping some residents move furniture and other possessions to higher levels. One person was evacuated from a home by the city's airboat, which also has ferried sandbags, equipment and personnel to work sites.

"We've also rescued pets at two sites," he said.

Cote left town in a National Guard truck early Sunday to pick up an emergency generator to keep the city's storm sewer system functioning.

"It's the town's sump pump," he said.

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Late this morning, Mike Cheney, bus supervisor and driver for the Warren-Alvarado-Oslo schools, drove as close to Oslo as he could to assess the situation. Buses won't be able to get through today and probably through all this week, he said, so the district will make other arrangements for the roughly 30 students who live in Oslo.

"Luckily, we have two teachers and an aide who live in Oslo, so we'll probably work something out to get things to them, maybe by e-mail," he said, "and they can work with the kids directly here until we can open up a road to get to them."

Many county roads in the area have been closed by the spreading water, and isolated farmsteads show signs of precautions against the rising waters. On Polk County Road 22 a few miles outside of Oslo, five vehicles were parked in a row atop a ring dike. A man stood with the trucks, his hands in his pockets, surveying the terrain.

"It's hard to get around here now," Cote said. "Usually you can find a way, but it's hard to find detours."

Mark Nelson, who lives in Grand Forks, made his way close to town early Sunday to check on his parents, Wayne and Judy Nelson, who live on a dike-ringed farm 2½ miles east of Oslo.

"They're fine," he said. "They're used to it. They grew up here. Their electricity was out yesterday, so I wanted to check to make sure it was back, and it is."

Another piece of good news: The manager of the Oslo Café, a woman who lives in Argyle, Minn., has signed up for the duration.

"They found her a house in Oslo, so she's staying through the flood," Hoff said.

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The Grand Forks Herald and The Forum are both owned by Forum Communications Co.

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