Water Level Appears To Fall In Flooded N.D. Town

June 26, 2011

NPR Staff and Wires

The Souris River appears to be starting a slow decline at Minot, N.D., where efforts to hold off further flood damage are successful so far.

The river's level dropped in four straight hourly readings through midday Sunday, though by just a few hundredths of an inch. National Weather Service meteorologist Ken Simosko says the Souris either has peaked or is peaking.
But Simosko warns Minot won't be clear of danger until the water falls significantly later this week. More than 4,000 homes were damaged as the Souris streamed over levees the past two days.

Army Corps of Engineers spokeswoman Shannon Bauer says levees are being reinforced with plastic sheeting. She says crews built a ring dike Saturday to reinforce one leaky levee on the city's east side.

But the Minot City Hall is still dry and up and running. With the help of pumps and a huge earthen levee along the side of the building, the river is being held back. But the street below the building, a school and several homes are all underwater.

"I've lived here my whole life and to see where I grew up underwater," said Erik Hobbs, who came to check out the flooding. "I'm lucky enough to live on a hill and the blue house back there is someone I know and I don't know how people are going to come back from that."

Thousands of homes have been lost. Downtown is closed and the regional hospital is threatened. The city's drinking water system may have been contaminated and residents have been warned to boil all water.

At a press conference, Mayor Curt Zimbelman said this has been the toughest flood fight he's ever been in.

"Some points it's overwhelming," he said. "We are doing everything we possibly can do to survive this thing. I'm praying everything will be OK."

The stress could be seen on Rep. Rick Berg's face as he tried to tell a story about his family.

"I called my wife this afternoon and my 11-year-old son got on the phone," he said before breaking down. He said his son told him to offer their house to displaced residents – "especially if there is someone elderly who doesn't have a place to stay. We are five hours away so I don't know if that will work, but that's what we do in North Dakota, that's what we do."

That generosity was evident in the city's two shelters opened up to take in evacuees. Residents, even those whose homes were damaged, had come to volunteer, donate food, toys and handcrafted quilts.

Fay Nelson was handing out small stuffed animals. She said she just wanted to do something, no matter how small the gesture.

"It's good to help others if you can," she said.

While 10,000 people have been evacuated from Minot, only about 250 are staying in the shelters. North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple says he's not surprised there aren't more people here.

"They're very resourceful; they are very self-sufficient but they don't think of themselves as dependent," he said.

Clergymen Mike Johnson and Mike Pancoast were too busy helping people chased from their homes by rising waters to give much thought to their own predicament.

The Evangelical Lutheran pastors were bunking with friends in Minot after being evacuated from the Souris River flood zone last week. But on Saturday they hopped into a car and headed for Velva, about 20 miles downstream, to assist others who were being forced to move.

"It's disheartening," Johnson said. "But I'm grateful that I have a place to go and I feel for people who are worse off than I am."

Johnson, associate pastor of Christ Lutheran Church, was uncertain about the fate of his own apartment building, although his belongings were safely in the hands of parishioners and friends in town. Fellow Lutherans from Stanley, an hour's drive west, took charge of his office equipment and files.

"They just showed up on Tuesday and carted stuff off for us," he said.

Similar stories of people helping each other, often without being asked and demanding nothing in return, were a heartwarming counterpoint to the destruction from unprecedented flooding along the Souris valley in north-central North Dakota. Brought together by word of mouth, church and civic networks, social media and random encounters, those with housing and supplies to spare gave willingly to those without.

A Facebook page called "Minot ND Flood Help" drew volunteer offers to haul furniture, care for pets, clean laundry and even give therapeutic massages — many from outside town.

Patrica Eide of Tioga, about 85 miles west, posted an offer to loan her 30-foot camper to a displaced family. It quickly drew a taker: a man with a wife and three children who were living in their van since being evacuated.

"We could probably rent that thing for $500 a month, but I told my husband there's no way I'm going to be greedy," Eide, 62, said by phone. "God just had better plans for our camper than renting it."

She was preparing to haul it to Minot with a load of canned tomatoes and green beans, a grill, propane and other supplies. "I think we've got 'em covered," she said.

A common sight was garages packed with televisions, books, clothing and other items as residents turned their homes into temporary storage units for flood victims. Williamson was keeping things for students at Minot State.

Across the street, a trailer stuffed with household belongings stood in Derek Cumbie's driveway. His garage was a veritable warehouse after several friends dropped off their things.

Two were staying with Cumbie, 26, a captain at Minot Air Force Base.

"I've been really impressed with how people in this community are helping each other, so I wanted to do my part," he said.

Minot's Broadway Street bridge over the Souris, which is its most important connection between the north and south sections of the city, is likely to remain closed until the crest recedes, the mayor said.

NPR's Carrie Kahn contributed to this report, which includes material from The Associated Press

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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