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Published June 23 2011

Forum editorial: The Souris drowns Minot

The only North Dakota natural disaster comparable to what is unfolding this week in Minot is the Grand Forks flood of 1997. The northern Red River Valley city was evacuated as levees along the swollen Red River failed. At the time, it was one of the largest mass urban evacuations in U.S. history.

As many as 12,000 of Minot’s residents are packing up and getting out of the Souris River flood zone as quickly as they can. As the normally placid river reaches a record crest – several feet over the old record of 1969 – it won’t be surprise levee breaches that flood the city’s low-lying neighborhoods. Rather, so much water is coming so fast, as a result of 10-inch-plus rainfall in the river’s Saskatchewan watershed, that existing levees will be overtopped. There was no time to raise them. There was no time to throw up enough temporary sandbag or clay levees to contain the river.

Minot’s efforts to protect key infrastructure and parts of the city’s downtown have been heroic. The next few days will determine if they were successful. The downside is that many neighborhoods could not be protected. The river will inundate them to levels never before experienced in the state’s fourth-largest city.

Meanwhile, North Dakotans across the state are offering assistance and/or traveling to Minot to help. Nearly every helping agency – public and private – has mobilized to aid the people of the stricken city. Of special note, the North Dakota National Guard again is performing magnificently – as it has done for the past several years in Red River Valley floods. The Guard, under the extraordinary leadership of Maj. Gen. Dave Sprynczynatyk, has all but written the book on flood efforts. The chapter they are writing this week in Minot will chronicle a historic flood and flood fight, even if it appears that this time the Souris River cannot be contained.

There is not much that can make the situation better for those people in Minot and in rural Ward County who have been forced out of their homes. Many of them won’t have homes to return to. Financial loss and emotional toll will extend the trauma long after the waters recede. Red River Valley residents who have been through a devastating flood understand. We know that’s small comfort in Minot today, but it does mean the people of the valley will extend whatever help they can to their neighbors in the west.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.