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Looming flood prompts North Dakota evacuations

About 12,000 people are told to leave their homes, most of them in the city of Minot, as the Souris River swells to record levels. It is expected to rise 8 feet more before cresting.

June 23, 2011|By Nicholas Riccardi, Los Angeles Times
  • Flooding from the Souris River spreads on the outskirts of Minot, N.D. The Souris is already higher than it was in 1969, when Minot was last hit by a major flood.
Flooding from the Souris River spreads on the outskirts of Minot, N.D. The… (Christian Randolph, Associated…)

As the Souris River reached record heights, the North Dakota city of Minot abruptly evacuated more than one-quarter of its population Wednesday, telling residents that the floodwaters would inevitably overwhelm the network of levees and dikes protecting the core of the city.

About 11,000 people were evacuated from Minot and 1,000 from a neighboring town as Minot officials turned despondent about the chances of the city escaping a devastating flood.

The last time Minot, population 40,000, was hit by a major flood was in 1969. On Wednesday, the Souris, also known as the Mouse River, was slightly higher than it was then, and it is expected to rise another 8 feet before it crests next week.

"A lot of people are devastated," said city Fire Capt. Dean Lenertz. "They know they're going to have some severe damage to their houses."

The midsection of the country has been soggy for months as snowpack melt and heavy spring rains have swollen rivers from the Mississippi to the Missouri. The Souris' headwaters are to the north, in Canada, and the river loops down into North Dakota before doubling back across the border.

Photos: Flooding in Minot, N.D.

This is the third straight year North Dakota has faced floods. Its ground and aquifers were already saturated before the torrential downpours of recent months. This year the swollen Missouri River threatens the capital of Bismarck, as well as South Dakota's capital, Pierre, and Omaha farther downstream.

Minot evacuated its downtown earlier this month as the Souris rose, but then rescinded the evacuations, confident that the danger had passed.

Then record rain hit the Canadian province of Saskatchewan in the last two weeks. Suddenly the Souris was rising again. The water gauge on the river at the Canadian border usually records 100 cubic feet flowing past every second. On Wednesday it recorded 33,000.

"It's a ton of water," said Cecily Fong, a spokeswoman for the state's department of emergency services. "It just kind of got squirrely because of major precipitation events that we weren't anticipating."

In Minot, which lies in a deep river valley, the Souris was already lapping at the top of the levees. City and county workers and National Guard troops were hurriedly trying to erect dikes around key buildings, such as schools, libraries and City Hall.

"We're trying to protect as much infrastructure as we can," Lenertz said.

He marveled at the amount of natural disasters that his region and the nation have seen this year.

"Everything's flooded; there's wildfires," Lenertz said. "One thing after another."

Photos: Flooding in Minot, N.D.

nicholas.riccardi@latimes.com

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