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Chuck Haga, Forum News Service, Published May 22 2013

Renwick Dam holds overnight in Pembina County

CAVALIER, N.D. — It's as if it was the Fourth of July, and a Sunday, and all the people of this Pembina County town of 1,300 have gone to the lake.

Stores are shuttered, drapes are drawn and no dogs bark at the occasional passerby.

Cavalier remains closed today, as authorities continue to monitor the Renwick Dam, five miles to the west, and a series of retention dams behind it trying to cope with an unprecedented amount of water in the Tongue River watershed.

"The sun is shining, it's not raining, and we have very good news to report," said Barbara Whelan, the Walsh County State's attorney who also serves as an assistant state's attorney for Pembina County.

She said overnight construction crews added 2 to 3 feet to the temporary section across the dam spillway.

"All the dams are operating. We have had no dam failures.

"The rate of rise (the dam) is decreasing," she said. "The dam is being monitored 24-7, and volunteers are walking the dam."

She said that all entry points to the city remain blocked by police, sheriffs deputies, state patrol and border patrol officers and National Guard troops, and "local residents will not be allowed back in today."

Speaking for city, state and federal authorities at a mid-morning news briefing, Whelan said, "I know it's hard for people to leave their homes and businesses. But residents should feel comfortable and confident. The power is on, the main lift station is operating and the streets are dry."

Pembina County Sheriff Brian Erovick said about a dozen people refused to obey the mandatory evacuation order issued yesterday.

"We tried to convince them it's their best option to leave, since the power is on and pumps are working. We may have to help them leave later with a boat or a pay loader, hopefully not a stretcher," he said.

He said the holdouts would not be forced to leave, but Whelan said those people could be "putting other people at risk should something happen, and they have to come and rescue you."

Erovick, whose family is staying with relatives in Grafton, N.D., said today's cloudless weather has helped bolster confidence locally, "but there's still a tremendous amount of pressure on that dam. It's more water than I've ever seen."

Neil Fleming, an attorney and longtime resident of the area, said the dam and its supporting retention dams were built after the great flood of 1950.

"I was in the first grade and I watched the water roll in," he said. "You could see it rolling in, massive, right across the countryside."

Highway closures in the area were being updated on the North Dakota Department of Transportation website at www.dot.nd.gov/travel-info-v2.

Whelan said the Red Cross shelter at Drayton, N.D., would shut down at 9 p.m. tonight if there continues to be no demand for it.

She said that some residents have called about heading back to their homes.

"I wouldn't say they're pounding on the door, but people are anxious," she said.

She said that the people she knows in Cavalier are staying with family in the area, some are in Grand Forks and elsewhere.

Authorities scheduled another news briefing at 5 p.m.