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Sandbags fall through floor at Fargo storage building

Fargo firefighter Kevin Johnson uses a chemical sniffer to check for gas Monday in a warehouse storing the city's stock of sandbags after a floor collapsed. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

The floor collapsed in a city-leased sandbag storage facility in Fargo on Monday, the first day of a push to prepare 1 million sandbags for a possible flood.

Larry Schuh, an assistant fire chief in Fargo, said the weight of the roughly 5,000 sandbags that'd been taken to 2600 3rd Ave. N. appear to have caused the collapse.

The four or five people who were stacking sandbags in the building were not injured, Schuh said. The collapse was reported to the Fire Department at 5:02 p.m., he said.

The sandbags - roughly two semi-truck loads that would have weighed about 125 tons - broke a gas line in falling to the basement of the building, causing a gas leak that required fire crews to vent the building for 45 minutes before they entered, Schuh said.

Police diverted traffic in four city blocks in the area for at least two hours because of concerns about an explosion, Schuh said.

Terry Ludlum, the solid waste utility manager, said between 33,000 and 35,000 sandbags were made by 8 p.m., meaning the collapse involved about one-seventh of the bags assembled in Fargo on the first day of its sandbagging operation.

It wasn't clear if the bags could be salvaged, but the city will preserve them if possible, Ludlum said.

Ludlum said space was quickly arranged to replace what storage capacity may be lost if the site of the collapse can no longer be used. Sandbags require warm storage so they are pliable when eventually used for makeshift levees.

City property records indicate the building, which once housed boat manufacturer Sugar Sand Marine, has about 33,600 square feet and was built in 1956. Schuh said it had been abandoned for at least 1½ years.

Ludlum said the city was counting on using about 25,000 square feet in the Sugar Sand Marine building, or enough space for about 100,000 sandbags.

An extra 20,000 square feet was freed up at another of the three heated buildings the city is leasing for sandbag storage - the Rott Keller building at 65 28th St. S., Ludlum said. He said negotiations are still ongoing for space in two additional buildings.

Fargo has leased enough storage space for about 1.6 million sandbags, he said.

None of the other storage spaces Fargo is leasing have basements, Ludlum said. He said city officials relied on information from real estate agents and property owners to ensure space being rented could hold the necessary weight.