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Flooding turns Dakota into disaster zone

The Red River carries snow and ice as it floods a home in Hickson, North Dakota. Photo / APAn unusual sight – flood waters full of ice.  The Red River carries snow and ice as it floods a home in Hickson, North Dakota. Photo / AP

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BISMARCK – President Barack Obama declared flood-stricken North Dakota a federal disaster area as some living along the Missouri River evacuated their homes and others worked on sandbagging and shoring up its banks.

Demolition crews blasted chunks of ice near a huge ice jam in the river in a bid to open a channel, like pulling out a giant plug to drain a flood threatening the state capital of Bismarck.

Governor John Hoeven said a second and third round of explosives would be set off today. Greg Wilz, the state’s homeland security director, called earlier blasts on about 150m of ice just south of the jam “a partial success”.

“The ice started moving,” Wilz said. “We would like to have a controlled flush because we don’t want to cause problems for people downstream.”

Bismarck Mayor John Warford had said the city was “cautiously optimistic” after the first try and that water appeared to be moving but officials would have a better assessment today.

Water backing up behind the dam of car-size ice blocks already had forced the evacuation of about 1700 people from low-lying areas in North Dakota’s capital.

On the eastern side of the state, volunteers continued stacking sandbags to protect Fargo amid new concern over the rising Red River.

City officials said they would build their dykes higher than planned, to 13m, and would distribute evacuation information to residents today. The river was projected to peak on Sunday.

Mayor Dennis Walaker described 12.5m as “uncharted territory”. The Red’s record high at Fargo was 12.2m in 1897. Walaker said he was still confident the city would beat the flood, but contingency plans were needed.

In Bismarck, the Missouri River jam was created by ice floating down the Heart River, with some chunks up to 1m thick and the size of small cars. The jam was about 17km downstream from the city.

Assistant Water Commission Engineer Todd Sando said: “The ice is just solid as a rock.” / AP


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