MINOT, N.D. — Sirens wailed across Minot Wednesday as the swollen Souris River overtopped levees five hours ahead of a looming evacuation deadline, setting in motion what is expected to be the worst flooding to hit the North Dakota city in four decades.
The warning was followed by an announcement saying, “All residents must evacuate, Zones 1 through 9,” prompting the last of nearly 11,000 Minot residents to leave their homes for a second time in a month.
Robyn Whitlow, 27, who was helping some residents move the last of their belongings, burst into tears when the sirens sounded at 12:57 p.m.
“I feel so bad for everybody,” said Whitlow, a Minot resident who lives outside the evacuation zone.
The Souris River, which loops down from Canada through north central North Dakota, has been bloated by heavy spring snowmelt and rain on both sides of the border.
The resulting deluge is expected to dwarf a historic flood of 1969, when the Souris reached 1,555.4 feet above sea level. The river is expected to hit nearly 1,563 feet this weekend — eventually topping the historical record of 1,558 feet set in 1881.
Minot Mayor Curt Zimbelman warned Wednesday morning that the river would top the levees earlier than expected and said residents still moving their belongings from the evacuation zone should “do their last-minute thing and be prepared to move quickly.”
The National Weather Service in Bismarck also issued a flash-flood warning along the Souris River from Burlington through Minot and Logan to Sawyer.
Before the sirens sounded, Laura Nessler, a 50-year-old nurse, watched the water lap against a bridge on Broadway, the main north-south thoroughfare through Minot. The road was bumper-to-bumper with furniture-loaded pickup trucks and cars pulling U-Hauls trying to get out of town.
Nessler pointed to a side street that had become inundated in the hour since she arrived.
“That didn’t have any water when I got here, and now it’s filling up,” Nessler said.
Ashley Getchell, 25, was snapping some photos at Broadway Bridge to document the flood for her 1 1/2- and 3-year-old kids and because she “has no place else to go.”
The stay-at-home mom had moved most of her belongings from her home at Holiday Village Trailer Park to a friend’s house, but she didn’t have enough time rescue anything else.
“I’m going to be losing my house,” she said. “I guess if anybody needed a reason to start over, this is it.”
The mayor said the city has just been buying time, and he urged people to be safe as they leave.
“Be cautious and be courteous, I guess,” he told KXMC. “Everybody’s trying to do the same thing. If we work together, the result’s probably going to be the best.”
Further north near the U.S.-Canada border, a rapid rise of nearly four feet was observed on the Souris River in the Sherwood area, the National Weather Service late Wednesday morning. The area is the first point in North Dakota where water released from Canadian dams is observed.
The weather service said flash flooding was expected in mainly rural areas of northwest Renville County, along with the hamlet of Greene. Renville County Emergency Manager Kristy Titus ordered a mandatory evacuation of Mouse River Park.
About 10,000 Minot residents were evacuated earlier this month before the river hit 1,554.1 feet. They were later allowed to return to their homes, but told to be ready to leave again quickly.
Nearly 500 North Dakota National Guard soldiers were in Minot to provide traffic control, ensure people were leaving left their homes and secure neighbourhoods.
Guard commander Dave Sprynczynatyk said he expected the impact of the impending flood among the worst he has seen in his 40-year career.
“What I see right now is probably the most devastating in terms of the number of people directly impacted and what will likely be the damage to homes as the water begins to overtop the levees and fill in behind,” he said.