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Erik Burgess, Published April 03 2013

Students, volunteers kick off sandbagging effort

FARGO – Students at Discovery Middle School had two options Wednesday: spend the day filling sandbags or write a three-page report on flooding.

For eighth-grader Meghan Schneider, the choice was clear.

“This is better than school,” she said from inside Sandbag Central, a wide smile on her face. “It’s actually fun, using the (twist-tie) gun and twisting the bags.”

Sandbag Central opened Wednesday morning, kicking off a 10-day campaign to make 1 million new bags for Fargo and Cass County to help fight a potentially record flood.

About 300 eighth-grade volunteers from Discovery, with permission from parents, volunteered Wednesday. Other schools plan to help throughout the week.

In its latest forecast, the National Weather Service says the Red River has a 50 percent chance of reaching 38.1 feet. It has a 10 percent chance of exceeding 40.9 feet, topping the 40.84-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 about 250,000 sandbags. City Engineer April Walker said contingency plans are in place if the river were to go higher.

“I think we’re more prepared this year because I was helping sandbagging in 2009, and that was so chaotic,” Schneider said.

Mayor Dennis Walaker said Wednesday that the melt has been “extremely slow,” and he hopes to see a river crest between 32 feet and 35 feet.

He said a deterministic forecast could be released within the next seven days, which would give the community a much better sense of how the river will flow. Walaker called the student volunteers “absolutely amazing.”

“If there’s any thank you’s that need to go out to the people right now, it’s to the kids,” he said. “And we hope that continues, and I don’t see any reason why it won’t. Everybody wants to get out of school, right?”

Moorhead officials also were on hand at a press conference Wednesday morning, and City Councilwoman Nancy Otto said their community will be volunteering, as well.

“What happens in Fargo affects Moorhead, and what happens in Moorhead affects Fargo,” Otto said. “So we’re all in this together.”

Sandbag Central needs 300 total volunteers to run at full capacity. With 80 workers, a spider machine can produce 5,000 bags an hour at full speed.

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

Fargo Municipal Court has begun ordering some defendants sentenced to community service to complete part of their sentences sandbagging, Carlson 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.

Volunteers are advised to wear old clothes, to wear layers and also to bring work gloves. Bottled water and food 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. It is located at Fargo’s solid waste department, 2301 8th Ave. N.

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

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