Minot braces for more rain as Souris River nears crest
With a threat of still more rain looming, Minot was bracing Saturday for the Souris River to cascade past its already unprecedented level and widen a path of destruction that had severely damaged thousands of homes and threatened many others. City officials were expecting the river to peak as early as Saturday evening at some 8 1/2 feet beyond major flood stage and remain there for several days, straining the city's levees to the limit and overwhelming some of them. Forecasters said there was at least an even chance of additional storms in coming days.
In this aerial photo, a Conoco gas station is surrounded by sand bags, the flood waters of the Souris River, and an oil slick Friday, June 24, 2011 in Minot, N.D. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
"A rain event right now would change everything. That's the scariest," Mayor Curt Zimbelman said.
After a flyover Friday, officials estimated at least 2,500 homes had been swamped and predicted the number would rise to 4,500 by the time the river crests. At least two schools, a nursing home and hundreds of businesses also were endangered, Zimbelman said.
More than a quarter of Minot's 40,000 residents evacuated earlier this week, packing any belongings they hoped to save into cars, trucks and trailers.
Fed by heavy rains upstream and dam releases that have accelerated in recent days, the Souris surged past a 130-year-old record Friday and kept going. The river was more than 5 feet above major flood stage Friday afternoon.
The predicted crest was lowered a foot based on new modeling by the National Weather Service, but it was little consolation in Minot, where Gov. Jack Dalrymple said frantic efforts to keep the floodwaters at bay soon would give way to a daunting recovery challenge.
"The stress of this incident is going to build up very quickly," he said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency pledged assistance to flood victims in Burleigh and Ward counties, which include Minot and Bismarck, the state capital, which has been damaged by Missouri River flooding. Sens. Kent Conrad and John Hoeven and Rep. Rick Berg had pushed for the aid in a call to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and said they hoped it would be extended to other flood-ravaged counties.
As they had the past two days, emergency officials focused on protecting water and sewer systems to avoid the need for more evacuations. They were confident about the water system, but a little less so about the sewer treatment plant. It had been sandbagged as high as possible.
Zimbelman said water coming up through a storm sewer briefly began to erode one downtown levee before it was controlled.
Also of concern was the Broadway Bridge, a key north-south route. Levees protecting the northern approach were being raised, but Army Corps of Engineers Lt. Col. Kendall Bergmann said it was touch and go. The levee work also protected the campus of nearby Minot State University.
Hoeven said a helicopter flight over the Souris valley showed damage to smaller cities nearby. He estimated more than 5,000 homes in the valley would eventually have water damage, including those in Minot and Burlington, where officials gave up sandbagging Thursday. The Army Corps of Engineers was leading an effort to build emergency levees in Velva, a small town about 20 miles downstream of Minot, before the Souris crests there Tuesday.
In Burlington, deputy auditor Cindy Bader estimated Friday that more than half of the town's 1,000 residents had left to escape the rising Souris River.
Burlington's city hall, school and police and fire departments appeared safe, but some homes in the evacuation zone had water up to their first floors and higher.
In one neighbourhood, the tops of two traffic signs barely peeked above the brown, brackish water, which reached just beneath the eaves of two nearby houses.
Wayne Walter, a Burlington city councilman and truck driver for a snack food company, said residents were stunned by the river's rapid rise. Just a trickle of water had slipped over the dikes Thursday night, but by the next morning "everything was gone," he said.
The National Guard had 870 members activated for the crisis. Minot is best known as home to an Air Force base, which oversees 150 Minuteman III missiles in underground launch silos scattered over 8,500 square miles in northwest North Dakota.
Col. S.L. Davis, commander of the 91st Missile Wing, said there was some "localized flooding" at a handful of missiles sites because of the wet spring and summer. But he said the silos are designed to safely handle some water and protective measures were taken at a few sites similar to what's done in preparation for spring runoff from snowmelt.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service launched four boats to patrol flooded neighbourhoods and respond to 911 calls. No injuries were reported. The evacuation zone was empty except for emergency officials and some geese, who paddled in about 5 feet of water washing down the streets.read more