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Ice Jam Detonated at North Dakota Capital, Residents Evacuate
BISMARCK, North Dakota, March 26, 2009 (ENS) - An Idaho engineering company Wednesday detonated charges at strategic locations in an ice jam south of North Dakota's capital city of Bismarck in an attempt to dislodge the obstruction in the Missouri River. The jam formed sometime between Sunday night and Monday morning after fragments of ice and debris were flushed out of the Heart River into the Missouri, lodging on a sand bar and backing water into adjacent communities.

North Dakota Governor John Hoeven Wednesday worked with state, federal and city officials to arrange for the clearing of the jam that is causing flooding on the south side of the city, forcing the evacuation of some 1,700 people. Burleigh County and City of Bismarck have declared flood emergencies.

The operation began Monday, when Hoeven sent a North Dakota National Guard jet to Omaha, Nebraska to pick up Roger Kay, a specialist in ice jams with the Army Corps of Engineers. Working with the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services the State Water Commission and the National Guard, officials decided to attempt the use of controlled explosives to open a channel on the river, allowing water to run downstream and reducing flood pressure on the city.

In a swirling snowstorm, crews from Advanced Explosives Demolition, the National Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard prepared the explosives. They blew up about 500 feet of ice just south of the jam and the water appears to be moving. National Guard helicopters will drop sand or salt south of the ice jam to create a channel for flow of water downstream.

Frozen flooded property in Bismarck, North Dakota. March 24, 2009. (Photo by Sgt. Jonathan Haugen, N.D. National Guard)

The Heart River, along with the Knife River and Apple Creek, all tributaries of the Missouri, are experiencing unprecedented flows in a year of record snowfalls and heavy late season precipitation.

The Army Corps of Engineers halted the scheduled annual release from Garrison Dam on the Missouri River on Tuesday to lessen the risk of downstream flooding. Corps spokesman Paul Johnston says the agency has never cut off water releases altogether at Garrison Dam but that no water will be released until the flooding eases.

Bismarck officials Monday ordered evacuations from both Fox Island and Southport as waters continued to rise into the night.

The North Dakota National Guard is assisting with sandbagging operations. One million sandbags were expected in Bismarck by late Wednesday, and volunteers are welcome. As of Wednesday, more than 1,100 National Guard troops were mobilized for flood response and prevention statewide.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is preparing to ship eight truckloads of ready-to-eat meals, three truckloads of water, 50 emergency generators, one truckload of cots, and one truckload of blankets. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deployed more than 130 personnel and have issued three million sandbags, 310 rolls of poly, HESCO Bastion flood walls and pre-positioned 12 water pumps.

Governor Hoeven announced Tuesday night that North Dakota has received a presidential disaster declaration due to severe flooding across the state, which will cover 75 percent of state and local governments' costs.

North Dakota National Guard Soldiers and Airmen work to sandbag for the rising waters of the Missouri River and Apple Creek. March 24, 2009. (Photo by Sgt. Jonathan Haugen, N.D. National Guard)

North Dakota Senators Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan and Congressman Earl Pomeroy met with President Barack Obama Wednesday to deliver "an unvarnished assessment of the situation facing families threatened by flood waters across North Dakota."

"We appreciate the President's willingness to meet with us today. It is clear that he understands the degree of the massive flood threats to communities all across our state," the delegation said in a joint statement. "The President told us directly, 'whatever we have to do, you can count on us.'"

The governor declared statewide flood emergency March 13 and Tuesday issued a statewide executive order suspending the hours of services limitation for truck drivers of commercial vehicles and school buses who are delivering relief supplies and people to communities in need.

Flooding continues over eastern North Dakota and northwest Minnesota. The National Weather Service has issued a flood warning for the entire state of North Dakota except the Devil's Lake area and says more snow and rain from the ongoing storm will worsen flood conditions.

Snow fell Wednesday in the Red River Valley region and the Bismarck area got eight inches of snow, the weather service said Wednesday.

The blizzard has closed hundreds of miles of highways in Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota and Nebraska. In southwestern North Dakota, one town reported 22.5 inches of snow and up to 2.5 feet of snow has fallen in South Dakota's Black Hills region.

In Fargo, North Dakota, crews raise the height of a clay dike to 42 feet to meet predicted flood waters of 41 feet. The dike runs in front of City Hall and protects the downtown area. (Photo byMichael Rieger courtesy FEMA)

Fargo and Moorhead are making a major effort to raise dikes as the surging Red River rises into what officials are calling "uncharted territory." The National Weather Service has forecast the river in Fargo will continue rising to between 39 and 41 feet by Saturday.

People who live in the Oxbow area just south of Fargo had expected rising river levels, but the water came up so quickly and forcefully Wednesday morning, they needed help from the U.S. Coast Guard helicopter and airboats to get out of harm's way.

The American Red Cross is staffing two emergency shelters for flood evacuees from the Red River Valley.

The city of Jamestown in Richland County is being evacuated and the Old Town part of Linton, west of Highway 83, is completely underwater.

In northwestern Minnesota, the deep snow pack and melting snow running off saturated and frozen ground has resulted in a serious conditions in the Red River Valley.

Ice jams have built up on the Red Lake River near Crookston, which resulted in a flash flood warning and voluntary evacuation of residents in low-lying areas. Other ice jams are possible throughout the Red River Valley as river flows continue to break up the ice.

In a letter to President Obama on Wednesday, Governor Tim Pawlenty requested an expedited disaster declaration for the State of Minnesota as a result of severe storms and flooding in Clay, Kittson, Marshall, Norman, Polk, Traverse, and Wilkin Counties.

"The outpouring of community support I saw along the Red River this week should make every Minnesotan proud," Governor Pawlenty said. "Our neighbors are battling the river and the state is working together with local partners to provide every available amount of assistance. Soon we'll need federal support to help our communities recover from this flooding. I'm hopeful the federal government will grant our request promptly."

Governor Pawlenty said Wednesday that the Minnesota Emergency Operations Center is fully operational. Nearly 30 state, federal and volunteer agencies are represented in the EOC to coordinate the response to flooding in northwestern Minnesota.

The National Weather Service warns the worst is yet to come, saying, "Major to record flooding is expected on parts of the Red River and its tributaries around late March into early April."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.

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