Minot, North Dakota evacuation to start shortly
(Reuters) - The emergency evacuation of one-quarter of Minot, North Dakota, residents was moved up several hours as a quickly rising Souris River threatened to swamp flood defenses, a city spokesman said on Wednesday.
Minot officials had ordered a mandatory evacuation for up to 12,000 residents of the city, North Dakota's fourth largest, by 6 p.m. on Wednesday, but rising river waters were expected to top some levees by late morning.
"It's imminent," Dean Lenertz, a Minot Fire Department captain and spokesman, said of the sounding of emergency sirens to start the evacuation.
"We are trying to patch up as many holes as we can to give people as much time as we possibly can to get them out safely."
A warning on the Minot city website said the National Guard had identified "several areas of concern" in flood-threatened areas of the city.
"It is imminent that the flood sirens will be sounding ...People should gather the final items that they want to take and evacuate the evacuation zones."
Officials had warned residents that they might need to evacuate before the 6 p.m. deadline in the city and noon for areas outside if water runs over the top of the levees before then, and urged people to map out a direct route to head for higher ground if warning sirens sound.
Heavy rains over the past six weeks have swelled Canadian reservoirs in the Souris River basin, forcing unprecedented water releases. In turn, U.S. officials must release water from the Lake Darling Dam above Minot at a rate more than double what the recently fortified protections can bear.
The massive flooding on the Souris River, which flows into the Red River basin, struck as residents from Montana through Missouri battle Missouri River flows that threaten the North Dakota capital of Bismarck, the South Dakota capital of Pierre and other communities for hundreds of miles downstream.
Earlier, North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple had thanked residents in the Bismarck area for offering surplus sandbags and other aid to Minot.
"I never thought we could possibly have anything even coming close to what is happening in Bismarck-Mandan this year ...," Dalrymple told reporters in a briefing. "There will be a lot of water in the city."
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to step up releases from the Lake Darling Dam and to 15,000 cubic feet per second on Thursday. Flood defenses in Minot were rated to perhaps 9,500 cubic feet per second, officials have said.
The Corps expects peak releases to reach about 20,000 cubic feet per second by late June and hold there for up to six days before a gradual reduction back to below 8,000 cubic feet per second over five days.
Amtrak suspended Empire Builder service Tuesday in part of Minnesota, North Dakota and eastern Montana due to flooding.
Heavy rains added to woes across the Missouri River basin from Montana through Missouri earlier this week and forced federal officials to adjust planned water release rates from some of its six reservoirs on the Upper Missouri River.
The Corps plans to reduce some releases to allow flows from tributaries to pass, but will increase the expected maximum at the key Gavins Point Dam on the South Dakota-Nebraska border. Rates already are roughly double the previous record.More.