Getting ready to fight the flood

St. Paul declares an emergency, sandbag-filling kicks into high gear, flood wall goes up at St. Paul Downtown Airport.

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In Stillwater on Monday, Carole Krogh stacked sandbags near the St. Croix River. Stillwater is expecting record flooding and officials there are looking to fill 100,000 sandbags over the next three weeks to be used to keep floodwaters at bay.

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

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Preparations for metro area flooding ramped up Monday with the creation of a flood wall at St. Paul Downtown Airport and an emergency declaration by St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman that opens the way for critical flood-fighting measures.

Public workers and volunteers from Delano to Stillwater are expected to pick up the pace of stuffing sandbags and building temporary levees to protect communities that could see rivers reach historic levels.

Temperatures around 50 degrees later this week will prompt an overdue melt that could lead to significant rise in rivers across southern Minnesota by next week, the National Weather Service said. The Minnesota and Mississippi converge in St. Paul, and the St. Croix meets them farther downstream at Hastings.

There have been no predictions yet for when water might leave the banks of area rivers. But the North Central River Forecast Center has indicated it is all but certain the metro area will see major commuter routes closed from Stillwater to the southwestern suburbs.

Flood factors converging

Rick Larkin, St. Paul emergency management director, said that of the three things that concern him most about current conditions -- a fast melt, a late melt and rain on top of snow -- all three could occur within the next week. Flooding of Shepard Road has become a regular occurrence and is expected to be significant this year. Larkin said the city is currently drawing up plans for a temporary dike in the Lowertown area.

Monica Beeman, an engineer in the traffic division of St. Paul Public Works, said those who drive to St. Paul might not be accustomed to the significant detours and traffic delays that are coming. She encouraged drivers to plan ahead.

The Ramsey County Board is also expected to approve a "Disaster Declaration for the Flood of 2011" Tuesday.

The two-page declaration says the cost of the flooding will exceed city resources, so help will be needed from the state, Ramsey County and federal sources.

Similar emergency declarations have been approved in Fargo and Moorhead, on the Red River, as well as in Carver, on the Minnesota in the southwest metro area. Such declarations enable local governments to qualify for federal aid, if presidential disaster declarations follow.

Crews at work all over metro

City crews in Carver began building up the city's levee Monday afternoon. Flood projections indicate rising water could reach within 2 feet of the top of the levee, so the city plans to add another 3 feet of clay, said administrator Brent Mareck.

In Stillwater, South St. Paul and Delano, volunteer efforts to fill sandbags are scheduled to start Tuesday. Carver will launch one Wednesday. In Stillwater, the goal is 100,000 sandbags, compared with the 40,000 used last year.

Fargo ended a nearly monthlong sandbag operation last week, after volunteers filled 2.5 million. Moorhead is aiming for 1.5 million with crews of temporary workers.

Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646 Rochelle Olson • 651-735-9749

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