Disastrous. Unstoppable. Historic. Unprecedented.
All words used to describe what city, county and state officials warn is an imminent assault on all residents of the Souris River Valley.
The highest flows ever recorded on the Souris are approaching a city whose defenses are destined to be over run. Can the city hold?
Kim Fundingsland/MDN • Here we go again. Minoter Dawn Mattern loads a bag into the back of a pickup truck. Much of Minot was ordered out of their homes Monday in
advance of an expected historic rise of the Souris River. Those ordered to leave must be out by 10 p.m. Wednesday.
Dikes currently in place, recently improved greatly to combat high flows, are now expected to disappear under the traveling torrent. The amount of water flowing with a vengeance down the Souris River Valley is forecast to inundate Minot to a level seven to eight feet higher than the catastrophic and benchmark flood of 1969.
Saddened with that horrific knowledge, officials announced during a late afternoon press conference Monday that very little can be done to stop the powerful onslaught. Massive secondary dikes that were built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to save much of the town from the previous high on the Souris this year fall far short of defending against the impending and rapid rise of the Souris.
Mandatory evacuations were ordered Monday for all evacuation zones within Minot. Mayor Curt Zimbelman said all affected residents and businesses must vacate those areas no later than 10 p.m. Wednesday. Within minutes of the announcement residents once again began the laborious and hastened work of moving out of their homes for the second time this year.
Pet shelter, Flood Hotline
Evacuees looking for a place to house their pets can take them to the North Central Research Extension Center at 5400 Highway 83 South in Minot.
The Flood Hotline for Minot and Ward County is 858-9366. The hotline is open 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
"It's a sad day in Minot," Zimbelman said at the end of a press conference Monday.
Burlington Mayor and Ward County Commissioner Jerome Gruenberg, backed by a declaration from Gov. Jack Dalrymple, urged evacuations at all points along the river in Ward County. Dalrymple urged citizens to "move in an orderly and not panicky way." Rick Hauck, Corps of Engineers, said the "saving lives" is now what is important.
"It's pretty easy to get to 23,000 cfs, which is bearing down on Sherwood as we speak," said Alan Schlag, Monday. Schlag is a hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Bismarck.
For comparison purposes, the previous peak flow at Sherwood this year, one which caused great concern at all points downstream, was a mere 8,860 cfs.
"Basically, Canada is pouring the coals to releases from dams. Rafferty is wide open, Alameda upped to 1,800 Monday and Boundary was at about 5,000 cfs," said Schlag.
Dalrymple, who conversed with Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall on Monday, said he received assurances from the Canadians that all that could be done to prevent high flows was done. Additionally, said Dalrymple, the citizens of Estevan are already enduring flooding hardships that may soon be experienced in Minot as well.
"It is very serious. Very difficult," said Dalrymple. "You need to protect your services at all costs."
Zimbelman explained that essential city services would be diked and that every effort would be made to keep Broadway open for traffic. To accomplish that, the recently constructed secondary dike beginning at the intersection of University Avenue and Third Street Northwest, which passes under Broadway Bridge and then east along Fourth Avenue toward the State Fairgrounds, needs to be raised approximately seven feet.
As of Monday afternoon no other dike projects or improvements had been decided upon. Limited by time and resources and facing a challenge never before thrown upon the Magic City, it appeared Monday that much of the community would be left to the mercy of a very uncooperative river.
"Let's not forget about the rural areas either. This will be much, much higher than we've ever seen before in history," said Dalrymple.
The flows currently rolling rapidly toward Minot, and even more water projected to follow, is of such volume that it is beyond the comprehension of NWS computer modeling.
"One of the biggest problems we'll experience with this is that it is far and above and beyond any previous experience as far as cfs," remarked Schlag. "Rating curves just don't apply anymore. A person is left to their own devices to come up with numbers."
The numbers were crunched for several hours at the NWS Hydrologic Forecast Center in Chanhassen, Minn., Monday. What they came up with was an initial high of 1,564.3 feet at Minot's Broadway Bridge by Saturday. As early as Thursday evening the river is projected to surpass its all-time high of 1,558 feet. Those numbers, astronomical in terms of flows in the Souris, only reflect the initial blow to be dealt the city and is subject to further increase as the situation develops and hydrologic outlooks project further into the future.
The crowd at Monday's City Hall press conference sat in stunned silence, followed by a few brief murmurs, when it was revealed that releases into the Souris from Lake Darling Dam would be ramped up to "16 or 17,000 cfs by Thursday." Minot's existing dike system laborously protects against 10,000 cfs. The previous high release for Lake Darling prior to this flood event was less than 5,000 cfs. Numbers all along the Souris are similarly stunning, shocking and, ultimately, saddening.
Zimbelman said that there was a possibility of adding more evacuation areas in the coming days and that all citizens should be planning for that eventuality. In the meantime, say city and county leaders, the matter is not if the city will flood, but how soon, how severe and how long lasting the flooding will be.