Page last updated at 17:39 GMT, Saturday, 28 March 2009

US flood river 'may have peaked'


Scenes of flooding in Fargo as Mayor Dennis Walaker explains the causes

Officials in the US Midwest have expressed optimism that the Red River, which has swollen to its highest levels for 112 years, may have peaked.

Thousands had been asked to evacuate their homes as the rising waters breached a dyke in Fargo, North Dakota.

And officials in nearby Moorhead had asked 2,660 homes to be evacuated.

Nancy Ward, acting head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was dispatched to Fargo by President Obama to oversee operations.

On Friday, the river swelled to previously unseen heights - surpassing the record of 40.1ft (12.2m) set in 1897 in Fargo - and its level had been expected to peak at 43ft on Sunday.

But weather forecasters said on Saturday the river was expected to remain below 41ft and gradually decrease in the next few days.

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said he was "optimistic" the river had seen the worst of the rising water levels, but warned that city residents should remain diligent.

"The best news we can take from this is the river has crested," said Mr Mr Walaker. "But diligence is going to have to be required for at least eight more days and hopefully things will continue to drop."

A volunteer helps build a dyke near a home

Earlier, having issued a federal disaster declaration for parts of Minnesota and the entire state of North Dakota earlier this week, Mr Obama assured concerned residents he was abreast of the situation.

"Even as we face an economic crisis which demands our constant focus, forces of nature can also intervene in ways that create other crises to which we must respond - and respond urgently," said Mr Obama.

In his weekly radio and internet address, the president pledged the federal government would do whatever was necessary to avert a crisis.

Levels rising

Lieutenant Tad Claws says that the Red River has peaked

As water levels rose in Fargo earlier on Saturday:

  • Authorities evacuated 150 homes as well as hospitals, clinics and a county jail
  • Two million sandbags were used to build a makeshift dam to try to protect the city's 90,000 residents
  • Some 1,850 national guards were monitoring the status of dams in the city

Experts say the huge rise in the river's levels was caused by an unusually cold winter, followed by a very quick thaw and heavy rain.

More snow is forecast to fall on the Red River valley in the coming days, and rain next week could worsen flood conditions, says the BBC's Jon Donnison in Washington.

Map of North Dakota and surrounding region

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