MINOT, N.D. — Residents scrambled Wednesday to pack up their belongings and head to high ground ahead of floodwaters that were expected to overtop levees, engulf much of the city and break a 130-year-old flood record.
The Souris River had not been expected to inundate Minot's protective levees until later this week, but Minot Mayor Curt Zimbelman told residents Wednesday morning that the city's dikes would not be able to hold back the river. By Wednesday afternoon, the city had sounded its evacuation sirens, which required about 11,000 residents in low-lying areas — more than a quarter of its population of about 41,000 — to leave their homes.
“They are virtually certain that the levee system is going to be overtopped, and there's nothing they can do about it,” said Pat Slattery, a spokesman for the National Weather Service.
By Wednesday afternoon most of the houses in Minot's evacuation zone were empty, save for a handful of stragglers desperately packing their belongings. Water had climbed within an inch or so of the tops of the massive earthen levees protecting the city. The river had already reached the level of at least one bridge and had begun to flow over it.
Karen Caudill was feverishly sorting through things she had not had a chance to go through since the her husband died of cancer last year. She said her home and its contents would almost certainly be lost in the flood.
“We just had to tear through and find the valuables because we didn't have room for anything else,” Caudill said as she began to cry.
The flooding is occurring because Minot, about 50 miles from the Canadian border, is in a basin that has received about 200 percent more rainfall than usual in the last two months, officials said. As a result, three reservoirs in Canada that have filled with rainwater have been forced to release water into the Souris.
The river, now at the major flood stage level of 1,555 feet, is projected to surpass the record of 1,558 feet on Thursday or Friday, officials said. That record was set Jan. 1, 1881. The river is expected to reach 1,560 feet by Monday.
“A flood is coming,” said Patrick Moes of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “We are trying to manage this flow to prevent the risk to human life as best as possible.”