Students sandbag in advance of dual crest in Pembina
PEMBINA, N.D. -- While troops from the North Dakota National Guard were being dispatched to Pembina Tuesday and U.S. Customs and Border Protection was keeping its eye on both the water and the Canadian border, the North Border School District san...
PEMBINA, N.D. -- While troops from the North Dakota National Guard were being dispatched to Pembina Tuesday and U.S. Customs and Border Protection was keeping its eye on both the water and the Canadian border, the North Border School District sandbag patrol was making quick work of filling some 12,000 sandbags by hand.
These 80 or so students from Walhalla, Neche and Pembina have been staying a step or two ahead of the rising water in communities along the Pembina River this week.
On Tuesday, they set up shop in the parking lot of North Border's Pembina High School. With classic music blaring, the students shoveled, filled, tied and stacked pallet after pallet.
They started at about 10 a.m., and were on pace to finish well before the end of the school day, according to Pembina High School Principal Jeff Carpenter.
"They've got it down," he said. "They're efficient. I'd hate to send them back inside the classroom for an hour."
About 4,000 of the sandbags were to be delivered to the U.S.-Canada border station a mile north of town. The other 8,000 or so were ready to protect property in Pembina and the surrounding countryside.
A community meeting had been scheduled for Tuesday evening, to gauge the demand for sandbags in town and the rural areas.
Everybody here knows the water's coming to this community, where the Pembina and Red rivers meet. And this year, it appears the crests will occur at about the same time.
The National Weather Service had not forecast a crest at Pembina as of Tuesday afternoon. Its seven-day forecast calls for a gradual rise over the next week from 50.7 feet on Tuesday afternoon to about 53.8 feet by next Monday or Tuesday. That's nearly a foot higher than earlier forecasts.
In Walhalla, where the students sandbagged Monday, the water rose 6 feet between late Saturday and noon Monday, peaking at 16.6 feet, about a foot below major flood stage, but still unofficially the second-highest crest on record.
As the Pembina River moved eastward, it rose nearly 4 feet at Neche between Saturday and Tuesday, settling in at about 21.6 feet, well below the 1997 record of 24.51 feet.
While the city of Neche, which has some 430 residents, was being protected Tuesday, overland flooding was swamping roads west and southwest of town.
Sometime around 2 a.m. Tuesday, water started flowing over Pembina County Highway 55, at the Wayne Newell farm, just west of Neche. By noon, a current about one foot deep was gushing across the east-west road that runs from rural Walhalla, past Neche, to Pembina.
"You hate it for the people on this side of the road. You hate it for that side," Neche Volunteer Fire Department Chief Scott Reck said. "Ultimately, though, it's saving the city."
He expected the water to overtake N.D. Highway 18, which leads into town, by sometime Tuesday night.
"I hope not, but that's the reality these days," Reck said. "We like to think we're better prepared every year, but it's just not normal. Every year is different. It comes from different directions."
The latest forecast calls for the river to stay at about 21.6 feet over the next week at Neche.
City crews and volunteers had about 10,000 sandbags in place or ready to be placed around the community.
"We've been told it could stay for days," Reck said. "We think everything will hold up. But you really don't know."
Reach Bonham at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 110; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org .