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Dump trucks begin hauling clay onto Fargo's Second Street just south of Main Avenue on Monday evening as a dike is built alongside the rising Red River. Dave Wallis / The Forum

Sandbag distribution starts today as Red rises

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It's go time.

And as the flood fight ramps up today in the metro and surrounding communities, Fargo and Moorhead officials are telling homeowners to build dikes lower than initially planned.

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The reason: a new National Weather Service view that the Red River may top out between 38 and 40 feet, a range that does not take into account precipitation that may fall in coming days.

Moorhead officials are now telling residents to build sandbag dikes to 42 feet, while Fargo residents are being told to build their dikes to 41 feet, with the possibility of going to 42 feet, if necessary.

The original plan in both cities was to build dikes to 43 feet.

The Red River is expected to reach 39 feet in Fargo-Moorhead by early Monday.

A possible storm Thursday night into Friday and another one predicted for Sunday could change the flood outlook significantly, according to Greg Gust, meteorologist with the Weather Service in Grand Forks.

"The range for that crest could still stretch up toward 41 feet or so," Gust said. "There's a fair amount of uncertainty."

Meanwhile, today marks the start of major flood fighting in metro cities and counties after earlier efforts helped fill millions of sandbags.

In Moorhead, volunteers are needed starting today to build sandbag dikes at various locations throughout the city.

The volunteer center at Minnesota State University Moorhead's Nemzek Hall is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. today through Saturday and from noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.

Volunteers will be bused from the volunteer center to work sites to prevent traffic congestion along the river.

Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland said he expects a good volunteer turnout, but it will likely be stronger toward the end of the week.

"I think it will be a little slow at first simply because we have no imminent threat," Voxland said.

A flood news conference is planned at 10 a.m. today for Moorhead.

On the issue of whether Moorhead will be building contingency clay dikes, City Engineer Bob Zimmerman said Monday that secondary clay dikes likely won't happen unless forecasts indicate the river will rise above 39 feet.

"It's almost a day-by-day decision," he said.

The city of Fargo will begin delivering sandbags at 6 this morning to Harwood Groves and River Drive. Motorists are asked to avoid south Fargo arterial roads and to pull over for the police-escorted convoys.

Fargo is asking for volunteer help Wednesday and Thursday. Volunteers should park at the First Assembly of God Church, 3401 25th St. S., and take shuttles to work sites. Residents are encouraged to call the volunteer hotline at (701) 476-4000.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began constructing emergency levees Monday night in Fargo, including one on Second Street along the river.

Fargo will hold its first flood briefing at 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Cass County's flood operations will officially kick off today, with the opening of the county's emergency operations and tactical operations centers.

Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney said county emergency response teams will be activated at 7 a.m. Wednesday.

In Clay County, overland flooding and the rising Buffalo River prompted rural residents to step up their flood-fighting efforts Monday.

Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist said county employees have delivered 100,000 sandbags to townships around the county so far.

Some smaller township roads are under water in the county. Passers-by spotted a damaged car in a flooded ditch off Highway 75 north of Kragnes on Monday morning.

"There is definitely a lot of water all over," Bergquist said. "A lot of fields are flooded."

The Clay County emergency operations center is tentatively set to open at 7 a.m. Thursday.

The National Weather Service projects the Buffalo River near Dilworth could crest around 24.5 feet on Friday or Saturday and at 17.3 feet on Wednesday near Sabin.

On Monday morning, Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, toured areas of north Fargo, north Moorhead and Oakport Township to observe the flood preparations.

"From all of the discussions I've seen, they are prepared," Walsh said.

The flood preparations are "way in advance" of what occurred in 2009, Walsh said.

"The community has really pulled together to get ready for this flood," he said.

Forum reporters Kristen Daum, Heidi Shaffer, Tammy Swift and Dave Olson contributed to this story

Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590

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