Minot, North Dakota Residents Flee and Nuclear Silos Protected as Historic Flood Waters Rise

When will the river stop rising? Records eyed.

ByABC News
June 23, 2011, 12:12 PM

June 23, 2011— -- Residents of Minot, N.D., have now resigned themselves – the Souris River will overflow, and the city will flood. More than 11,000 residents, almost a quarter of the population, have already been forced to flee as waters rise towards historic levels and submerge entire neighborhoods.

"We could have a really catastrophic type of event here. We will -- there is no doubt about it anymore. I think people have to understand if you were on the edge before you may not be on the edge now," Curt Zimbelman, mayor of the town of 41,000, told evacuees last night.

ABC News Fargo affiliate WDAY filmed a submerged neighborhood where 15-20 homes are completely surrounded by water in the southwest part of Minot.

Minot is also home to more than just families - Minuteman III nuclear missile silos are also in the flood's path. At least two silos are being protected by sandbags and pumps, but are reported to be safe.

"We are already higher than the historic flood of 1969 and based on current predictions we will crest seven feet higher than we did in 1969 and about five feet higher than ever recorded going back to the flood of 1881," Zimbelman told ABC News. "These levels are above any rating curves than the National Weather Service has dealt with in the past."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is releasing pent-up water from the Lake Darling Dam, which will push water downstream towards Minot at 17,000 cubic feet per second – more than three times the record flow rate before this year. Those raging waters are expected to start pushing against the makeshift Minot levees rated to withstand water flows of up to about 9,500 cfs on Thursday or Friday, according to WDAY.

The Souris River, which loops down from Canada through north-central North Dakota, has been bloated by heavy spring snowmelt and rain. It is not expected to crest until Sunday or Monday. Zimbelman says the city faces a "very difficult" long-term situation.

Minot is expecting the worst flooding it has seen in nearly four decades, when severe flooding of the Souris River devastated the city in 1969. The same river reached 1,555.4 feet above sea level during that destructive flood time, and this time it could reach 1,563 feet.

This is the second time Minot residents have had to flee their homes. About 10,000 people were told to evacuate potentially affected areas earlier this month when the river climbed to 1,554 feet. They were eventually allowed to return, but were told to remain on high alert. Many of the same people have now been forced back out of their homes.

Some had tried to hold out against the unrelenting water, but finally had to leave.

"I think we've pushed our limit," Minot resident Pam Hunt told ABC News last night. "I think we need to get out."

The mayor has commended residents for their adherence to evacuation orders. "I want to thank the citizens of Minot for adhering to the evacuation order," said Zimbelman this morning. "It has been a very orderly process. We asked you to evacuate and you responded very well."

Also, for the second time in as many months, the Cass County Sheriff's Department airboat squads have been deployed to western North Dakota.

"The dedication of these people is amazing. When the call came out, the sheriff contacted us yesterday and the guys were pretty eager and ready to do their part. That's why we're here," Sgt. Duane Nitschke of the Cass County Sheriff's Department told ABC News Fargo affiliate WDAY.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.