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Sandbags pile higher and towns watch for more flood crests

April 9, 1997

MONTEVIDEO, Minn. (AP) _ Towns along the lower Minnesota River stacked more sandbags and measured the rising flood Tuesday as residents here watched to see if they would get hit again.

``People are worried ... but we’re taking it as it comes,″ said Myrtle Sherod, who was helping her daughter run Valentino’s Restaurant on Main Street, protected by the levees.

Mrs. Sherod turns 80 in two weeks. ``The water had better go down by then,″ she said.

Schools reopened Tuesday for the first time since last week, and many businesses on high ground also opened their doors in this town 130 miles west of Minneapolis.

But 80 miles downstream, high school students in New Ulm were hard at work piling sandbags along the Minnesota.

The river rose 1.6 feet Tuesday at New Ulm and is expected to crest there on Wednesday. The National Weather Service said it doesn’t have an official flood stage for the city.

Farther downstream, below the point where the Minnesota joins the Mississippi, a crest nearly 10 feet above flood stage is expected Sunday at St. Paul, most of which is on higher ground.

Although the Minnesota was receding at Montevideo on Tuesday, a day after cresting nearly 10 feet above flood stage, experts warned that temperatures warm enough to melt snow on Wednesday, with a chance of more precipitation at week’s end, mean the river could rise again.

``Multiple crests can occur, especially with snow melt runoff,″ said Mark Seeley, a climatologist at the University of Minnesota. ``We could have another surge.″

The timing of the snow melt was complicated by record cold covering the region after a weekend blizzard dumped more snow on a region that had already gotten more than twice its normal amount.

Bismarck, N.D., dropped to a record low of just 3, while that state’s western town of Dickinson fell to a record 8 below. Watertown, S.D., where many residents had returned home after flooding eased along the Big Sioux River, had a record low of 4, and Minneapolis-St. Paul chilled to a record 9.

Another problem was ice jams that formed temporary corks, threatening to rupture and release new flood crests.

Along the Minnesota-North Dakota state line, a huge ice jam was lodged about four miles south of Breckenridge at the confluence of the Bois de Sioux and Red rivers.

``I haven’t seen it, but from what I understand, it’s about as far as the eye can see,″ said Jewel Jones, Richland County emergency management director.

``It’s inaccessible,″ she said. ``The Army Corps of Engineers came in and checked it and said they couldn’t do anything with it.″

Floating ice on the Pomme de Terre River tore a hole overnight in a levee protecting the town of Appleton, about 25 miles from Montevideo, but volunteers poured in from miles around and closed the breach by morning.

``It’s a small levee and a small town, but if it’s your home, it’s everything,″ said Swift County Chief Deputy Scott Mattison. ``The cold weather froze things back up and slowed the river, but it’s just delaying the inevitable.″

In Ortonville, along the South Dakota border, workers used a crane to clear a logjam around the dam of the frozen Big Stone Lake, the mouth of the Minnesota River. They got about half the job done before cables on the crane snapped.

But Sheriff Joe Berning said that should be enough to keep the dam from overflowing. That was good news for people living downstream who feared a sudden surge of water if the dam was breached.

Crews in Minnesota and North Dakota struggled to restore electricity to thousands after power lines snapped in the snowstorm.

In North Dakota, one man died and two dozen others were stricken by carbon monoxide poisoning while using portable heaters or generators.

County authorities said Roger Schweigert, 46, was found dead in his farm shop in LaMoure, about 70 miles southwest of Fargo, N.D. ``He was overcome by fumes,″ Sheriff Marke Roberts said.

Residents in both states were evacuating because of the threat of flooding from the Red River.

Dale Sayler, a retired professor, loaded up his van as he prepared to leave his home in Kragnes, north of Fargo and about a half mile west of the overflowing Buffalo River.

``We’re going to Mississippi. I figured if we’re going to leave, we’ll make a vacation out of it,″ he said.

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