BURLINGTON - Residents of Burlington who live in a newly identified evacuation zone must be out of their homes by Wednesday evening, Mayor Jerome Gruenberg announced at a news conference Monday.
The city is racing against time to raise its dikes to handle up to 15,000 cubic feet a second coming down the Souris River, but Gruenberg and Burlington Fire Chief Karter Lesmann offered "no guarantees" as they warned residents to secure their belongings from anticipated high water and get out.
Maps of the mandatory evacuation area were posted to the Ward County Web site at (www.co.ward.nd.us) Monday evening.
Jill Schramm/MDN • A National Guard member tosses a sandbag Monday to a fellow Guard member as they stack bags to help Burlington fight coming flood waters.
"People should be using this time to get things out and move," Gruenberg said, noting the evacuation order applies to people living along the Souris from upstream of Burlington to downstream of Minot in Ward County. The length of the evacuation is indefinite. The Mid-Dakota Chapter of the American Red Cross opened a shelter in the Burlington school Monday for evacuees.
Gruenberg and Lesmann pledged that the city will fight the flood either to victory or the bitter end.
"I am not going to give up," Lesmann said. "We will work endless days and nights til that water is here."
With the help of the Corps of Engineers and North Dakota Army National Guard, Burlington is working to raise its dike to handle 12,000 cfs.
"I think when they get there, we will ask them to keep going," Gruenberg said. "It's entirely possible that we could get to that 15,000 cfs level with our dike and maybe keep it from flooding here. There's no guarantee. We need everybody's help, and we may lose this fight, but it won't be because we didn't try."
The 15,000 cfs is the engineer's estimate of the amount of water that Burlington could get. Gruenberg said that although the Corps expects 23,000 cfs to cross out of Canada at Sherwood next Monday, Burlington's experience is that the flow lessens as it moves south. High water already is coming ahead of the Canadian discharge as Lake Darling is upping its releases to make room for the incoming flow.
The city anticipates water backing up in the Des Lacs River, which flows into the Souris at Burlington. The Des Lacs isn't the main concern, although both Gruenberg and Lesmann said "all bets are off" if significant rain impacts the Des Lacs in the next week.
Burlington is diking around its main sewer lift station and its wells. There is concern about Minot's ability to protect its aquifers, which could affect delivery of water from Minot to Burlington through the Northwest Area Water Supply project. If that happens, Burlington would fall back on its wells, Gruenberg said.
The need also exists round-the-clock for sandbagging volunteers.
Volunteers were hard at work outside city hall on Monday. They started with one sandbagging machine to speed the process along. A second machine arrived later in the day.
Carmen Voigt resides outside Burlington's evacuation zone, but having lived in West Fargo during previous flood threats to the Fargo area from the Red River, she can relate to the plight of Burlington residents living near the river, including her son's family. Voigt was helping fill sandbags to bolster the dike system Monday.
"I just know, from living in Fargo, that if everybody helps out, you can save your city," she said.
Wanda Berger, another Burlington resident filling sandbags, said it's important for those living in safer zones to sandbag for those who can't because they are busy evacuating. Berger helped with sandbagging efforts earlier this year and also two years ago.
"This time, I think there's a more dire need," she said.
Lesmann recalled volunteers' successful fight against a rising Des Lacs River in April.
"I really, truly think if we can get these same people back here again - and most of them are back now," he said. "I can't guarantee it, but I really think we can hold this back."
A 24-hour emergency operations center has been set up in the fire department building. Residents will be alerted by reverse 911 of the need to evacuate. The city will deploy its sirens only in event of a dike breach, in which case people in the evacuation area should leave immediately.
Residents should shut off their electricity and contact Montana-Dakota Utilities to disconnect gas service. The fire department also can disconnect gas for residents in an emergency. As people evacuate, they should notify the fire department so it can mark those homes prior to going door to door to ensure everyone is out Wednesday night. In event of flooding, people should not pump water from their basements because the outside water pressure could cause the foundation to crumble.