Sunday, June 26, 2011

Levees hold as Souris River crests at historic high

By Geoff Davidian | Reuters – Sun, Jun 26, 2011

MINOT, North Dakota (Reuters) - The Souris River crested to historic heights in North Dakota's fourth largest city of Minot early on Sunday, but emergency levees held providing respite to officials battling to keep areas dry.

The Souris, which flows from Canada southeast into North Dakota, rose early on Sunday morning to almost four feet above the 130-year-old record it shattered on Friday, according to the National Weather Service.

There have been no reported deaths or injuries in the biggest flood in area history but floodwaters have all but swallowed more than 3,000 homes and displaced more than 12,000 Minot-area residents.

"Even though this crest has passed, there is still a tremendous amount of water," U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Jeffrey DeZellar said.

DeZellar added that rain dumped by thunderstorms late Saturday had pooled in shallow ponds on the land-side of some area levees forcing workers to wade or drive through them.

The storms did not cause any of the floodwater to swell over levees.

More thunderstorms are still possible on Sunday said Steve Goss, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center.

"Severe storms aren't likely, though, and it looks like the foods won't be aggravated by rainfall," Goss said.

Minot Mayor Curt Zimbelman said water levels will remain high for several days and praised the fortitude of the residents displaced by mandatory evacuations.

Authorities tried in vain to remove a walking bridge that collapsed in the middle of the river. The bridge remains stable but poses a threat to a downriver dam.

Officials' attention has turned to displaced residents, more than 12,000 of whom heeded mandatory evacuation calls.

Some moved in with friends or family, but more than 250 people were holed up in Red Cross shelters at a city auditorium and Minot State University or at the Minot Air Force Base.

More evacuees were reported from the towns of Turtle Lake, Velva and Sawyer, among others, according to Allan McGeough, executive director of the mid-Dakota chapter of the American Red Cross.

As many as 300 people in Velva will require shelter, McGeough said.

In Sawyer, about 16 miles southeast of Minot, 400 residents were told to evacuate on Saturday after river water rushed through a downtown roadway. The levees in Sawyer are holding.

Flood warnings have been issued throughout the region.

The massive flooding in Minot has overshadowed temporarily the widening deluge along the Missouri River that threatens cities all the way from Montana to Missouri.

Federal officials have pushed record water releases from six reservoirs along the Upper Missouri River that are near capacity because of a deep melting snowpack and heavy rains.

Those reservoirs have little capacity for additional rain, and record releases are expected to continue through August, causing widespread flooding in Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri.

Heavy rains across the Souris River Basin left Canadian reservoirs over capacity. Water rushing down from Canada has forced U.S. officials to make record-large releases from the Lake Darling Dam above Minot and other communities.

(Writing by Eric Johnson; Editing by Tim Gaynor)

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