BISMARCK, N.D. —The Souris River's full weight hit Minot on Friday, swamping an estimated 2,500 homes as it rose nearly 4 feet in less than a day and overwhelmed the city's levees. City officials said they expected as many as 4,500 homes to be severely damaged by the time the river peaks today.
More than a quarter of the city's 40,000 residents evacuated earlier this week, packing any belongings they hoped to save into cars, trucks and trailers.
"The river's coming up rapidly," Mayor Curt Zimbelman said. "It's dangerous and we need to stay away."
Fed by heavy rains upstream and dam releases that have accelerated in recent days, the Souris surged past a 130-year-old record Friday and kept going. The river was more than 5 feet above major flood stage Friday afternoon and expected to crest as early as this evening some 8 1/2 feet beyond major flood stage.
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The predicted crest was lowered a foot based on new modeling by the National Weather Service, but it was little consolation in Minot.
"This has been a very trying time for our community," Zimbelman said. "It's emotionally draining for all of us."
As they had the past two days, emergency officials focused on protecting water and sewer systems to avoid the need for more evacuations. They were confident about the water system, but a little less so about the sewer treatment plant. It had been sandbagged as high as possible.
Also of concern was the Broadway Bridge, a key north-south route. Levees protecting the northern approach were being raised, but Army Corps of Engineers Lt. Col. Kendall Bergmann said it was touch and go. The levee work also protected the campus of nearby Minot State University.
Members of the state's congressional delegation pressed for a federal emergency declaration making people eligible for individual assistance, a step they said was needed for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set up transitional housing centers.
Sen. John Hoeven said a helicopter flight over the Souris valley showed damage to smaller cities nearby. He estimated more than 5,000 homes in the valley would eventually have water damage.
The National Guard had 870 members activated for the crisis. Minot is best known as home to an Air Force base which oversees 150 Minuteman III missiles in underground launch silos scattered over 8,500 square miles in northwest North Dakota.
Col. S.L. Davis, commander of the 91st Missile Wing, said there was some "localized flooding" at a handful of missiles sites because of the wet spring and summer. But he said the silos are designed to safety handle some water and protective measures were taken at a few sites similar to what's done in preparation for spring runoff from snowmelt.