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Published June 22 2011

Souris River flooding forces 11,000 out of Minot

MINOT, N.D. – More than 11,000 residents in this city and Ward County must evacuate by this evening to escape the rising Souris River for the second time in recent weeks.

On Tuesday, Minot Mayor Curt Zimbelman moved up the mandatory evacuation time to 6 p.m. for city residents.

“The water is rising fast, and people need to get evacuated as soon as possible,” he said.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple issued a noon mandatory evacuation for county residents upstream from the city and a 6 p.m. evacuation for residents downstream. Law enforcement will ensure that people have left their homes, he said.

“This is strictly a matter of public safety,” Dalrymple said. “There is a risk to people remaining in those areas beyond those times.”

The Souris River is expected to rise several feet above record stage in the coming week, with water flows ramping up to more than 20,000 cubic feet per second.

Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk said every flood is different, but called this event “one of the greatest in terms of impact to the community as a whole.”

“What I see right now is probably the most devastating in terms of the number of people directly impacted and what will likely be the damage to homes as the water begins to overtop the levees and fill in behind,” he said.

Entering the city from the south, it’s hard to believe there’s an impending disaster. Grocery store and restaurant parking lots were full, and it appeared to be business as usual Tuesday.

But it’s another story in the heart of the city. Residential streets were packed with U-hauls, horse trailers, pickups and trailers as residents tried to save as many of their belongings as possible.

Pickups carrying refrigerators and stoves drove along Broadway, carrying them to safer ground. National Guard soldiers directed traffic, which increased throughout the day.

Despite the massive moving day, neighborhoods were quiet, focused on the task at hand on the dreary day.

Obed Rodriguez described the city’s mood as “a little bit somber,” but said they haven’t given up. Now evacuating from his home for the second time, he still had a sense of humor about moving.

“We have plenty of practice now,” he said.

Neighbor Tina Collom, 82, showed off the beautiful flowers in her yard before she evacuated Tuesday afternoon, knowing they would be gone when she returns.

Collom bought her home in 1968, just months before the city’s major 1969 flood. She remembers returning to find fish in her basement. But that’s nothing compared to now.

“We won’t have nothing to come back to this time,” she said, gazing at her home.

Her son, Stuart, said the home was built in 1912 and won’t see its 100th birthday.

“It’s almost biblical what’s going on in this part of the country,” he said of the widespread flooding. “It’s not going to be good. Not going to be good.”

Zimbelman said the city has increased the frequency of levee monitoring and, in case of an emergency, sirens and reverse 911 will warn residents of the need to evacuate sooner.

He said they’re working on building up dikes around the city’s critical infrastructure and on plans to put up secondary dikes in certain areas.

“Once we have the critical sites secured, we will start on the other areas, trying to protect as many homes and businesses as possible,” he said. “We will continue on until the water pushes us out of the area.”

Sprynczynatyk said Guard members will monitor levees, provide security in the evacuated areas and direct traffic. They are also ensuring shelters have resources to take care of evacuated residents, he said.

“The bottom line at this point is we are fully prepared to address the evacuation of what appears to be in excess of 11,000 people,” he said. “We want to make sure they are properly taken care of.”

How to help

Zimbelman said they’re running out of storage for residents’ belongings and are looking for storage space.

Minot Police Chief Jeff Balentine pleaded with the community and sightseers to stay off roadways if they don’t need to be driving to reduce traffic for evacuees trying to get their belongings out.

The Red Cross is supporting the shelter effort and says donations to help Minot residents can be made at www.minotredcross.org.

Teri Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.