Thousands told to evacuate as floodwaters rise in N.D.

MINOT, N.D. —About 11,000 Minot residents are being ordered to leave their homes even earlier than expected this week as the Souris River gets closer to swamping the North Dakota city with the worst flooding in four decades, officials said Tuesday.

Mayor Curt Zimbelman said about a quarter of the city's residents were being told to evacuate by 6 p.m. today, and officials plan to sound the warning sirens if water spills over Minot's protective levees before that looming deadline. Authorities had previously encouraged people to be gone later that night.

"Public safety is paramount," Zimbelman said during an afternoon news conference. "The water is rising fast, and people need to get evacuated as soon as possible."

The Souris River that loops down from Canada through north central North Dakota is bloated by heavy spring snowmelt and rain on both sides of the border.

Water is expected to reach the top of city's levees within the next two days and the resulting flooding is expected to dwarf the historic flood of 1969, when the Souris River reached 1,554.5 feet above sea level.

Zimbelman said the river at the city's Broadway Bridge was just a tenth of an inch shy of that level Tuesday afternoon, and it's expected to hit nearly 1,563 feet this weekend.

The 1969 flood prompted the Army Corps of Engineers to build a dike system that has been beefed up several times this spring.

But those levees are unable to handle flows from Saskatchawan of approximately 28,000 cubic feet per second.

The corps will mitigate those high flows through its management of the Lake Darling reservoir, said Deputy Commander Lt. Col. Kendall Bergmann.

Zimbelman said officials in Minot are focusing efforts on building dikes to protect critical infrastructure such as the sewer system, water plants, schools and City Hall.