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An intense effort to save towns near and along the Red River in far northeastern North Dakota is ongoing as a key dam has been pushed to the brink by rising water. 

Pembina in North Dakota and surrounding small towns are already inundated with flood waters. The river gauge at Pembina gave a reading of 51.5 feet Wednesday morning, which is more than 12 feet above flood stage and just 3.4 feet shy of the record crest set during the devastating floods of 1997. 

The river is forecast to continue rising to a crest of 53 feet this weekend, which would be the second highest crest ever measured in Pembina. 

Authorities said closed Highway 5 near Cavalier – located about 7 miles southwest of Pembina – because of "possible imminent rupture" of the Bourbanis Dam,. 

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum activated the National Guard on Tuesday, and the Guard immediately responded with two Black Hawk helicopters helping place 119 one-ton sandbags in areas of most concern, including at the dam. 

"Crews will remain in place overnight to monitor Bourbanis Dam for any changes," emergency management officials announced Tuesday night. 

A massive effort to protect the Pembina included students filling 5,000 sandbags on Tuesday, with 2,000 more expected to be filled Wednesday. As of Tuesday, water was on the edge of Interstate 29 in Pembina in "a few small areas," officials said. 

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Levels at the Renwick Dam near Cavalier were dropping on Tuesday, though officials said "there is still potential for high flows from Bourbanis Dam resulting a rise in the levels at Renwick Dam."

The town of Neche, which is located 7 miles west of Pembina and located along the Pembina River, was surrounded by water as of Tuesday. A command center in the town is monitoring the dike and had been successfully repairing breaches as they occurred, emergency management said. 

Fortunately, there is no rain in the forecast until Sunday or early next week. 

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