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Published June 23, 2011, 02:57 PM

SLOW-MOVING DISASTER: Minot Evacuees Scramble to Save Possessions, Find Shelter

Water keeps coming, and it’s coming fast.

By: Wendy Reuer, Forum Communications

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MINOT, N.D. – Water keeps coming, and it’s coming fast.

At a press conference Wednesday evening, officials said the swollen Souris River will likely crest two to three days earlier than expected, about 7 feet higher than the record-making 1969 flood and 5 feet higher than ever recorded, but will remain at record levels for five to six days.

The river is expected to crest on Sunday.

The Souris River, which loops down from Canada through north-central North Dakota, is bloated under the weight of heavy spring snowmelt and rain on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border.

Mayor Curt Zimbelman said releases from Lake Darling will increase from 10,000 cubic feet per second to 22,000 cfs by Friday, sending nearly double the amount of expected water surging into the river and through the city.

Canada is currently releasing water at about 28,000 cfs, but is not expected to increase that amount unless there is heavy rainfall.

“There is a record amount of flow coming, there is no question about that, and we also know it is moving into North Dakota sooner than expected,” Gov. Jack Dalrymple said.

On Wednesday, water was rising rapidly in the city of Minot, with officials measuring the river at 1,555.4 feet around 3 p.m. By 5 p.m., the National Weather Service in Bismarck reported the river had risen about 5 feet, to 1,560.2 feet.

Sirens just before 1 p.m. Wednesday signaled water had begun to overtake levees in some Minot neighborhoods.

All bridges were closed with the exception of the Broadway Bridge, a four-lane bridge connecting U.S. Highway 83 to the north and south ends of Minot.

About 11,000 residents – or a quarter of the Minot and Ward County population – were forced to evacuate their homes at that time, five hours earlier than the 6 p.m. deadline originally stated Tuesday.

“This is a difficult time, I think this community has even more difficult times ahead of it,” Zimbelman said.

Dalrymple said no serious injuries or incidents had been reported during evacuations.

“The evacuation of Minot has gone extremely well. The response is exactly what it should have been,” Dalrymple said.

Carl and Barb Clemetson hadn’t yet returned to their home since the first evacuations in Minot on June 1.

The couple stood atop the Broadway Bridge to watch water lick the top of levees just yards from their home Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s a slow-motion disaster,” Carl Clemetson said, adding that waiting for the crest is one of the hardest parts.

“We’re North Dakotans; we like to get things over with, get it done so we can rebuild,” Barb Clemetson added.

Neighborhoods along the river still showed signs of life where begonias bloomed in the front of carefully manicured lawns and streets echoed with birds’ song until the sudden thunder of the National Guard Blackhawk helicopters thundered overhead, reminding residents of the impending flood devastation.

Ray Carlson made a last-minute trip back to his home near First Street and Fifth Avenue Northwest after he and his family left Tuesday to grab his canoe and clean up a few things from his garage. Like many of the evacuees, Carlson said he was staying with family on higher ground.

Carlson and resident Becca Natsues estimated most evacuees were staying with friends and family. By Wednesday, shelters were set up at the Minot Auditorium and Minot State University. Mid-Dakota Red Cross Executive Director Allan McGeough said fewer than 300 had checked into the shelter, but he expected more by morning.

Maj. Gen. David Spryncynatyk said about 500 National Guardsmen were deployed to the Minot area by Wednesday, with about 50 more to arrive by morning. Guardsmen were the first to recognize levee breaks in the city early Wednesday morning but were able to manage them until later in the afternoon, buying the city time, Zimbelman said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to increase Lake Darling releases later today to allow residents time to adjust to the rising waters.

“It will be dramatic, and I think some people will no doubt feel alarmed,” Zimbelman said.

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