Disastrous. Unstoppable. Historic. Unprecedented.
All words used to describe what city, county and state officials warn is an imminent assault on all residents of the Souris River Valley.
The highest flows ever recorded on the Souris are approaching a city whose defenses are destined to be over run. Can the city hold?
Dikes currently in place, recently improved greatly to combat high flows, are now expected to disappear under the traveling torrent. The amount of water flowing with a vengeance down the Souris River Valley is forecast to inundate Minot to a level seven to eight feet higher than the catastrophic and benchmark flood of 1969.
Saddened with that horrific knowledge, officials announced during a late afternoon press conference Monday that very little can be done to stop the powerful onslaught. Massive secondary dikes that were built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to save much of the town from the previous high on the Souris this year fall far short of defending against the impending and rapid rise of the Souris.
Mandatory evacuations were ordered Monday for all evacuation zones within Minot. Mayor Curt Zimbelman said all affected residents and businesses must vacate those areas no later than 10 p.m. Wednesday. Within minutes of the announcement residents once again began the laborious and hastened work of moving out of their homes for the second time this year.
Burlington Mayor and Ward County Commissioner Jerome Gruenberg, backed by a declaration from Gov. Jack Dalrymple, urged evacuations at all points along the river in Ward County. Dalrymple urged citizens to "move in an orderly and not panicky way." Rick Hauck, Corps of Engineers, said the "saving lives" is now what is important.
"It's pretty easy to get to 23,000 cfs, which is bearing down on Sherwood as we speak," said Alan Schlag, Monday. Schlag is a hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Bismarck.
For comparison purposes, the previous peak flow at Sherwood this year, one which caused great concern at all points downstream, was a mere 8,860 cfs.
"Basically, Canada is pouring the coals to releases from dams. Rafferty is wide open, Alameda upped to 1,800 Monday and Boundary was at about 5,000 cfs," said Schlag.
Dalrymple, who conversed with Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall on Monday, said he received assurances from the Canadians that all that could be done to prevent high flows was done. Additionally, said Dalrymple, the citizens of Estevan are already enduring flooding hardships that may soon be experienced in Minot as well.
"It is very serious. Very difficult," said Dalrymple. "You need to protect your services at all costs."
Zimbelman explained that essential city services would be diked and that every effort would be made to keep Broadway open for traffic. To accomplish that, the recently constructed secondary dike beginning at the intersection of University Avenue and Third Street Northwest, which passes under Broadway Bridge and then east along Fourth Avenue toward the State Fairgrounds, needs to be raised approximately seven feet.
The crowd at Monday's City Hall press conference sat in stunned silence, followed by a few brief murmurs, when it was revealed that releases into the Souris from Lake Darling Dam would be ramped up to "16 or 17,000 cfs by Thursday." Minot's existing dike system laborously protects against 10,000 cfs. The previous high release for Lake Darling prior to this flood event was less than 5,000 cfs.
Numbers all along the Souris are similarly stunning, shocking and, ultimately, saddening.
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