Thousands of people have been evacuated from Fargo, North Dakota as the surging Red River threatens to unleash the biggest floods the state has ever seen.
The Red River runs along the North Dakota-Minnesota border and flows northward to Canada. An usually cold and snowy winter produced large amounts of snow on top of frozen ground. A warm spell and heavy rain melted the snow and ice, which flowed into the river and quickly raised water to its highest level in 112 years.
The Red River has surpassed its record of 40.1 feet set in 1897 in Fargo on Friday morning and is expected to crest by Saturday or Sunday at 42 feet. Even after the floodwaters crest, the water is not expected to begin receding for a few days. This will risk failure in levees that surround the city.
Located in an ancient lakebed, the river is especially prone to flooding because of it its direction. River water freezes as it moves north into Canada. Its banks are not very high and flood waters can quickly spread out huge distances.
“Water has seeped through the ground in at least six locations along dikes on both sides of the Red River,” said Frank Worley, spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Although there are significant floods, freezing temperatures have helped prevent worse flooding. Officials say that the river is rising more slowly because the freezing temperatures prevent snow from melting.
The Red River may hit record levels over the weekend as residents fill sandbags through the night while some evacuated. Watch this documentary from CBS: