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Red River peak flooding forecast lowered for Fargo, North Dakota

(Reuters) - U.S. forecasters on Monday cut their predictions for peak flooding on the Red River in Fargo, North Dakota, welcome news for weary residents who are expected to see the river reach its highest levels of the season within two days.

The National Weather Service said it expects the north-flowing river to rise to 35.5 feet on Wednesday in Fargo, down from an estimate of 37 feet issued on Sunday and a forecast for as much as a 40-foot crest less than a week ago.

"It's still a big flood, it's just not as big a flood as it could have been," said Greg Gust, a warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

Fargo, with a population of about 105,000, has experienced four major floods along the Red River, which flows into Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada, in the past five years. The river is peaking at the latest point on record.

Significantly above normal snow and rain from January to early April prompted predictions for more severe flooding, but the forecasts have been cut back as major storms missed the area, more water soaked into the soil than anticipated and runoff water made its way into the river more smoothly.

If it rises to 35.5 feet, the crest would be the ninth highest on record, but lower than levels reached in 2009, 2010 and 2011 at Fargo, which has bought out homes in flood-prone areas and was preparing for a crest of more than 40 feet.

The reduced flooding expectations in Fargo are expected to be repeated at other points along the river, but some bridges are now under water, a couple of more bridges will be under water and a number of roads have been washed out, Gust said of the flooding.

Oslo, Minnesota, north of Grand Forks, would have been encircled by water under prior forecasts, but not based on the latest predictions, Gust said. The river crest is expected to reach the Grand Forks area by the weekend and Canada in mid-May.

(Reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Paul Simao)

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