Flood predictions lowered, but Midwest rivers still rising

Friday, April 13th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

FARGO, N.D. (AP) _ Forecasters say the Midwest's swollen rivers won't crest as high as expected, but with many rivers already above flood stage and still rising, residents aren't taking chances.

Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura helped pile sandbags in Moorhead, Minn., as residents along the Red River fought to shore up emergency dikes and protect homes and businesses.

``I think what you offer them is: 'Jump in and help them,''' Ventura said Thursday, urging more people to help out. ``I think that's the best encouragement.''

In Fargo, where the Red River isn't expected to crest until Monday or Tuesday, the water was already a foot above flood stage Thursday night.

The new crest estimate, 37.5 feet, is down a half foot, but for Ed Schmidt's home to make it, that crest needs to fall below 37 feet.

``I feel more comfortable when I know I've got the edge,'' Schmidt said Thursday as he built up the dike around his house.

Across the river, National Guard soldiers set up portable bridges to span a section of road near Moorhead that was cut to allow floodwaters through. About 150 homes in Oakport Township would be accessible only by boat without the bridges.

``You can't just forget about it and take down your dike and pretend it's not going to rain,'' said Dorothy Skalicky, who had to take a boat to her home after floodwaters cut off the roads.

Downstream, after the Red River flows into the Minnesota, the weight of a levee holding back the swollen river cracked the city water main at Grainte Falls, Minn. The leak is eroding the levee, but crews can't repair it without tearing up the dike, Mayor Dave Smiglewski said.

``How ironic. We don't have water, we have a flood,'' Smiglewski said. ``It is really what we didn't need to have happen right now.''

The Mississippi River also threatened low-lying areas in eastern Minnesota, western Wisconsin and northeast Iowa.

Meteorologists said the Mississippi could reach its second-highest level in Wisconsin, second only to a record-setting April 1965. That April was dishearteningly similar to this one, when a cool March didn't melt the winter snow, said National Weather Service meteorologist Jeff Boyne.

Wisconsin only got 2 to 5 inches of rain this week, but melting snow added 3 inches of water.

Strong storms that moved through the Midwest on Wednesday and Thursday cut electricity to thousands of people in Ohio, Michigan, Nebraska and Colorado, and tornadoes damaged buildings and killed two people in Iowa.

In western Nebraska, crews battled snow and mud as they repaired downed electrical lines. A Detroit fourth-grader was electrocuted when he touched a downed power line there, and an Ohio man died when a large tree branch was blown into him.

In Grand Forks, N.D., on Thursday officials were relieved to hear crest estimates for the Red River had been lowered by two feet.