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A million sandbags: Volunteer army in North Dakota prepares for historic flooding

Town of Crookston readies itself for the possibility of spring flooding. KVLY's Neil Carlson reports.

The largest city in North Dakota, bracing for what could be a catastrophic flood season, has converted a shed for trucks into a massive assembly line to crank out sandbags — a million of them in 10 days.

Three enormous, spider-shaped sandbag-filling machines rumbled to life Wednesday morning in Fargo, and a crowd of middle-school volunteers was told by intercom to “man your battle stations,” The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead reported.

The city hopes to bring in 300 volunteers. It takes dozens to run each of the machines, which collect sand from a central pile and spew it through tentacles into bags held by volunteers.

Soldiers of the North Dakota National Guard fill and load sandbags at a spider sandbag machine at the Northern Plains Commerce Center in Bismarck, N.D., on May 27, 2011. After an initial 32-day flood operation this spring, the North Dakota National Guard returned to flood duty May 23 in Minot, Bismarck and Mandan.

Partly because of late-winter snow, forecasts have warned that North Dakota and Minnesota could face severe flooding this spring, perhaps one of the five worst in history for the Red River at Fargo.

Flood stage for the river at that point is 18 feet, and forecasters said in March that they are worried about more than 36 feet of water. The area endured historic flooding in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

“I know my way out here now,” volunteer Dwight Nettleton told The Forum. “I’m just here to help out every year if they need it.”

Besides the three machines, Fargo has brought 7,500 tons of sand and 5,000 pallets to its Division of Solid Waste building, NBC affiliate KVLY in Fargo reported. Each sandbag weighs about 30 pounds, The Forum reported.

Fourteen miles of levees have been built in Fargo since 2009, and the city plans to build a $1.8 billion system that will funnel floodwater around the city through 35 miles of channels, The New York Times reported.

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