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'Hoping for no surprises'

Four-wheel drive pickups drive east from Oslo on Minnesota Highway 1 on Friday. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald1 / 2
Marilyn Erickson and her children, Bethany and Joshua, check out flooding Friday along Minnesota Highway 1 east of Oslo, Minn. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald2 / 2

OSLO, Minn.—The Red River at Grand Forks crested Friday, but the flooding threat is far from over to the north.

In Oslo, the Red crossed into major flood stage April 8 when the river swelled to 36 feet. The river likely crested Saturday at about 37.8 feet. That's just shy of the record crest of 38.37 feet in 2009.

On Wednesday, North Dakota Highway 54 — one of only two roads into Oslo — was closed from Interstate 29 to the Red River. The North Dakota Department of Transportation said the road would remain closed until the river level recedes.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation also closed Minnesota State Highway 1 between Oslo and the North Dakota border so people "don't get stuck on 54 and have to turn around," said department spokesman TJ Melcher.

Oslo Mayor Erika Martens said the city remains prepared. The Minnesota National Guard was in town Saturday to help monitor the city's dike system.

"We have everything in place," Martens told the Herald. "There are no emergency situations as of yet."

Oslo resident Marilyn Erickson said she wasn't "a bit worried" about flooding in the area, even as water flowed over Minnesota State Highway 1 in front of her home. Before the water levels started rising significantly, she said she picked up food and baked some bread at home.

"We stocked up on groceries and figured it wouldn't be that long," said Erickson, a 15-year Oslo resident. "I know that if I needed help, I could call, and they'd come in the airboat."

Though Erickson plans to stay in Oslo during this flooding season, she said she left town with her small children in tow during the 2009 flood.

Snow impact

Meanwhile, Thursday's snowfall likely won't make things easier for flood prep and recovery in several towns.

"It's difficult to sandbag on top of snow. It doesn't work," said Erik Beitel, emergency manager for Pennington County, Minn. "But we're not in crisis mode. We're in our normal operating mode."

At least five township roads have been closed due to overland flooding in Pennington County, though major arteries remain open, Beitel said. The county has seen more than $50,000 worth in damages to roads so far, Beitel said.

He said the county "can be self sufficient" during the floods, but it may call for state help during the recovery process.

"Ice jams are our biggest fear," said Beitel. "Water moves around the jam, taking the path of least resistance, which could be someone's yard."

For now, though, the water is flowing "pretty darn good," he noted.

Relief in Polk

According to the National Weather Service, the Red Lake River at Crookston crested at 24.66 feet Monday night. The river level had dropped to 14.65 feet Saturday morning. Flood stage is 15 feet.

"River levels will continue to be monitored," City Administrator Shannon Stassen said via email. "City staff will continue to monitor levees periodically."

Stassen also noted the city's public works department will continue to work 24-hour shifts "until further notice."

Several other communities in Polk County are "on the downhill side" of flooding, said Jody Beauchane, the county's emergency management director.

By Thursday, the county had reopened several southwestern roads that had been closed due to overland flooding.

"The surge is over," he said. "Right now, we're looking at northwest Polk. The Tabor (Minn.) area got a lot of overland flooding."

As of Thursday morning, four homes in the area had taken in some water, he said. The Red Cross and Salvation Army later distributed flood cleanup kits to affected residents.

Business as usual

Grafton mayor Chris West said everything was business as usual heading into the weekend.

The Park River at Grafton crested Wednesday at 11.3 feet, according to the NWS.

"We have no real big concerns," West said. "We're watching some pieces of ice jam in the channel, but that seems to be breaking up pretty good. We could get a little higher if that ice gives us trouble."

In Minto, the Forest River crested Tuesday at 4.62 feet.

"The water has gone down substantially," said Minto Mayor Larry Jamieson.

The town isn't doing any more preparation for flooding, but remains on alert in case snowfall changes water levels, Jamieson said.

In Drayton, the city is waiting for the Red to crest this week. The river at Drayton is expected to rise to 42 feet over the weekend, putting it into major flood stage.

"I mean, that's only three feet below the level in 1997," said Drayton's Emergency Manager, Jason Woinarowicz. "We've got to keep an eye on things, but we should be able to handle it."

City employees will fill in the earthen dike that separates Drayton from the Red River.

"I'm hoping for no surprises," Woinarowicz said. "But right now, we are sitting pretty good."

Back in Grand Forks County, Emergency Manager Kari Goelz said the worst is over in the city and much of the county.

The Red River crested at 46.87 feet Thursday night "while nobody was looking," Goelz said.

"It is going to go down now, but will be painfully slow," Goelz said. "People will have to be patient."

Goelz said Grand Forks County may still be in "major flood stage" until the middle of the week.

Bridges in the city will stay closed until both the Minnesota and North Dakota departments of transportation can come inspect them.

"The water has to be low enough for them to get their equipment under the bridges," Goelz said.

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