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Forum staff reports, Published April 03 2013

Sandbag Central rumbles open with goal of making 100,000 bags today

FARGO – The sand is flowing, well, like water.

Sandbag central opened this morning with the goal to make 1 million new bags to split evenly between Fargo and Cass County to help fight a potentially record flood.

Three spider sandbag-filling machines rumbled to a start at around 9:30 a.m., just a few minutes after a crowd of young volunteers from Discovery Middle School arrived and those inside were told over the intercom to “man your battle stations.”

South Fargo resident Dwight Nettleton says his home doesn’t flood, but he’s still been out to make sandbags this year and during major floods in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

“I know my way out here now,” he said, laughing. “I’m just here to help out every year if they need it.”

Nettleton, who is retired, said he plans on working an 8-hour shift today and returning to do more shifts throughout the week.

Many city officials were also on hand early in the morning, including Deputy Mayor and City Commissioner Tim Mahoney, sporting his fluorescent yellow flood-fighting jacket.

“We’re going to try to get 100,000 (sandbags) today,” Mahoney said.

Around 7,500 tons of sand is needed to fill 500,000 bags, with each bag getting around 30 pounds, according to information provided by the city.

Each spider machine needs about 80 volunteers and Sandbag Central itself needs 300 total volunteers to run at full capacity. A spider machine can produce 5,000 bags an hour at full speed.

Volunteers are still needed, mostly in the late afternoon hours from 3 to 7 p.m., said Karena Carlson, communications manager for the city.

She said shuttles will be leaving from volunteer registration areas every 20 minutes from 3 to 6 p.m. on weekdays from the JC Penney wing of West Acres and from Jitter’s Coffee at 1414 12th Ave. N. Shuttles on Saturday run 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Mahoney said the first day can be a bit slow, with still “a few kinks” to be worked out, but the goal is to hit 100,000 bags each day that Sandbag Central is open. He said Wednesday morning that he’s seeing a lot of familiar faces, which is encouraging.

“It’s great to see them,” Mahoney said.

Volunteers are being advised to wear old clothes, to wear layers and also to bring work gloves. Bottled water and food – including sandwiches, chips and granola bars – are being provided by the Salvation Army and the Red Cross.

Sandbag Central is open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. this week through Saturday. It closes Sunday, but reopens Monday, April 8 through Saturday, April 13.

Volunteers are encouraged to call ahead at (701) 476-4000, and can check which time slots need the most volunteers by visiting volunteerstatus.cityoffargo.com.

In its latest forecast, the National Weather Service says the Red River has a 10 percent chance of exceeding 40.9 feet, which would top the 40.82-foot flood of record in 2009.

Fargo officials will first build protections to 40-feet, which will defend against a 38-foot flood with 2 feet of freeboard. That will take around 250,000 sandbags. City Engineer April Walker says contingency plans are in place if the river were to go higher.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518