The Souris River crested in Minot, North Dakota, on Saturday, June 25, at 11 pm, breaking the previous all-time record set in the 1881, but two days later City Manager David Waind still described the situation as “very tenuous.”
The river’s stage level raised across the entire valley, causing it to flow straighter and faster than had been predicted. As a result, it brought the crest a few days earlier and four feet lower than had been predicted. Even so, the crest was nearly four feet above the previous record crest.
But even if there’s no rain in the coming days, the river won’t recede to normal levels until July 12.
A total of 4,150 structures have been damaged and, says Waind, “that’s just the beginning.”
Residents have been unable to get in to find out the fate of their homes, but preliminary FEMA numbers are sobering:
- 805 structures completely damaged
- 2376 extensively damaged
- 802 moderately damaged
- 132 slightly damaged
Luckily, the schools let out for the summer at the end of May. The city lost three elementary schools (two public and one private), one middle school, and a special services school.
Water Everywhere but None to Drink
An estimated 12,000 people have been displaced, either because they live in flooded neighborhoods or because they can’t get to their homes. In the northeast section of Minot, for example, a secondary dyke is protecting the city’s main north-south arteries, all of which are closed except for one. Barring any additional rain, they probably won’t reopen until after the July 4 weekend.
The flood left the city with two wells out of 16 from which to pump tap water. The city can treat river water, but after a drainpipe from a high service pump station failed and river water mixed with treated water, the North Dakota State Health Department imposed a “boil order.” Waind hopes that the required testing will be completed so the boil order can be lifted within a week.
In the longer term, temperatures and precipitation have a 50/50 chance of being average or above average. Waind hopes for the best.
“There’s not a lot of time between [when the river returns to normal levels] and freeze-up to repair homes,” he says. “Normally we get our first frost in September and see some snow in November. By the first week of November, paving contractors are often done for the season.”
Immediate Assistance, Long-term Needs
The usual roster of government agencies and aid organizations have set up shop in Minot, including FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Geological Survey, National Guard, Red Cross, and Salvation Army.
Although shelters have been set up, only 335 people have had to use them. Everyone else who’s been displaced has been taken in by friends and family.
With unintentional irony, Waind says the recovery is “coming on like a tsunami.”
“People have been very good,” he says, citing offers of help from other city managers and communities in the state and across the country. “We have mutual aid agreements with many of the larger North Dakota communities. We’ll use them over the coming weeks and months.”
There’s a chance they may need to clear many homes located near the river. According to news reports, only 375 homes were covered by flood insurance.
Over time, the city will build a bigger, better dyke system, improving on good channel work done in the 1970s.
But, as Minot and its residents try to come to grips with the challenges ahead of them, Waind admits it’ll be a long time before they get back to normal.