Video: Thousands flee as river floods in North Dakota

NBC News and news services
updated 6/22/2011 7:05:58 PM ET 2011-06-22T23:05:58

Driving away with what they could fit in their vehicles, thousands of Minot residents left their homes on Wednesday amid blaring sirens and floodwater that overtopped or seeped through some levees.

  1. Only on NBCNews.com
    1. OWN via Getty Images
      From belief to betrayal: How America fell for Armstrong
    2. pool via Reuters file
      US to Syria neighbors: Be ready to act on WMDs
    3. China: One-child policy is here to stay
    4. NRA: Practice Range
      New 'Practice Range' shooter game says it’s from NRA
    5. 'Gifted' priest indicted in crystal meth case
    6. AFP - Getty Images
      China's state media admits to air pollution crisis
    7. AFP - Getty Images
      French to send 1,000 more troops to Mali

Steve and Michelle Benjamin were among the nearly 12,000 ordered out. Before they fled, however, they hauled an entertainment center, desk chairs and bicycles over an emergency levee to a trailered pickup truck. It was the last of nearly a dozen loads.

Michelle Benjamin, 46, stood on the deck along the rising Souris River, watching water trickle over the dike.

"Oh my God," she said as she fought back tears. "It's not easy starting over at this age."

The river, which begins in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan and flows for a short distance though North Dakota, was all but certain to inundate thousands of homes and businesses during the next week.

The deluge was expected to far exceed a 1969 flood, possibly reaching 13.5 feet above flood stage by Monday. The river is expected to top the historical record set in 1881 by at least seven feet.

Image: Michelle Benjamin
Will Kincaid  /  AP
Michelle Benjamin watches the Souris River overflow behind her home in Minot, N.D., on Wednesday.

The Benjamins, who have lived in a landscaped five-bedroom modular home for 16 years, had moved their belongings out of the river's path twice in less than a month. Some 10,000 residents were evacuated earlier this month before the river hit 5 feet above flood stage. They were later allowed to return but were told to be ready to leave again quickly.

The two moves were particularly taxing on Steve Benjamin, 51, who broke his back in 1984 and has had several surgeries, evidenced by a 20-inch scar spanning much of his bare back. The last item waiting to be loaded — other than their dogs Buster and Bear — was a water bed.

Steve Benjamin said the couple was likely heading to his son's house, which was in Minot but on higher ground outside the evacuation zone.

Get updates on the floods on breakingnews.com

"I don't think the reality will set in until tomorrow, when we see the water in the house," he said.

The Benjamins and others had less time than they expected, with officials on Wednesday trimming back the evacuation deadline by several hours as water started coming in.

"I feel so bad for everybody," said Robyn Whitlow, who lives outside the evacuation zone but was helping people load their belongings. She burst into tears when sirens sounding the evacuation deadline went off.

Broadway, the main north-south thoroughfare, was bumper-to-bumper by late Wednesday morning with furniture-loaded pickup trucks and cars pulling U-Hauls trying to get out of town.

Ashley Getchell was snapping some photos at Broadway Bridge to document the flood for her two children and because she "has no place else to go."

She had moved most of her belongings from her home at Holiday Village Trailer Park to a friend's house, but she didn't have enough time rescue anything else.

"I'm going to be losing my house," Getchell said calmly. "I guess if anybody needed a reason to start over, this is it."

Laura Nessler pointed to a side street that had become inundated by the Souris River in the hour since she arrived.

"That didn't have any water when I got here, and now it's filling up," Nessler said.

The mayor urged people to be safe as they left.

"Be cautious and be courteous, I guess," Curt Zimbelman told KXMC TV. "Everybody's trying to do the same thing. If we work together, the result's probably going to be the best."

Reservoirs full, water released
Heavy rains over the past six weeks have swelled Canadian reservoirs in the Souris River basin, forcing unprecedented water releases. In turn, U.S. officials must release water from the Lake Darling Dam above Minot at a rate more than double what the recently fortified protections can bear.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to step up releases from the Lake Darling Dam and to 15,000 cubic feet per second on Thursday. Flood defenses in Minot were rated to perhaps 9,500 cubic feet per second, officials have said.

The Corps expects peak releases to reach about 20,000 cubic feet per second by late June and hold there for up to six days before a gradual reduction back to below 8,000 cubic feet per second over five days.

Nearly 500 N.D. National Guard soldiers were in Minot to provide traffic control, ensure people were leaving left their homes and secure neighborhoods. 

Guard commander Dave Sprynczynatyk said he expected the impact to be among the worst he has seen in his 40-year career.

"What I see right now is probably the most devastating in terms of the number of people directly impacted and what will likely be the damage to homes as the water begins to overtop the levees and fill in behind," he said.

Sheriff's personnel were also in Minot, ready to operate air rescue boats in case any residents refuse to follow evacuation orders.

PhotoBlog: View, discuss weather photos

The massive flooding on the Souris River, which flows into the Red River basin, struck as residents from Montana through Missouri battle Missouri River flows that threaten the North Dakota capital of Bismarck, the South Dakota capital of Pierre and other communities for hundreds of miles downstream.

Earlier, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple had thanked residents in the Bismarck area for offering surplus sandbags and other aid to Minot.

"I never thought we could possibly have anything even coming close to what is happening in Bismarck-Mandan this year ...," Dalrymple told reporters in a briefing. "There will be a lot of water in the city."

The Associated Press, Reuters and NBC News contributed to this report.

Photos: Minot, N.D.

loading photos...
  1. Floodwater from the Souris River surrounds the Ramstad Jr. High School in Minot on Monday, June 27. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. This June 25 satellite image provided by GeoEye shows flooding due to the cresting of the Souris River in Minot. Mayor Curt Zimbelman says demolition might be the only solution for nearly one-fifth of the homes in the city that have been damaged by Souris River flooding. (GeoEye / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Floodwater from the Souris River surrounds homes on the right, as others sit dry in Minot, N.D., on Monday, June 27. Just 375 of the 4,000 homes in flooded areas were insured for floods, FEMA spokesman John Ashton said. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Gordon Valgren, right, cleans debris from his flood-damaged home as his neighbor Clayton Rostad watches in Minot on June 27. Residents who live on the edge of the flood zone began to clean the water damage from their homes on Monday. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Floodwater pumped out of the basement of a Minot State University building is emptied across a levee into University Ave. in Minot on June 27. As the river hit its record-shattering peak and began a slow retreat, residents looked ahead to an arduous rebuilding job while continuing to deal with short-term obstacles such as sharing the homes of friends and relatives, traffic tie-ups and an advisory to boil drinking water. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Floodwaters from the Souris River surround homes on 3rd St. N.W. near Minot State University June 27 in Minot, N.D. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. An earthen levee sits on top of 3rd Street N.W. in Minot, N.D., giving some protection to one house, left, and damming the Souris River on the other side near Minot State University, June 27. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. The National Guard provides two large "bladders," water tanks that hold thousands of gallons of water, one for non-potable water and one for potable water, for the water supply to Trinity Hospital in downtown Minot, N. D., near the Souris River in Minot June 27. 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. (Allen Fredrickson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Mobile homes are submerged in floodwater as the Souris River crests as seen from the air June 26 in Minot, North Dakota. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Businesses are surrounded by floodwaters as the Souris River crests, June 26, in Minot, N.D. The Souris River surpassed its 1881 record level of 1,558 feet above sea level, flooding an estimated 4,000 homes in the city. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Zach Hillman, left, and Bill Damschen with the U.S. Geological Survey team mark the crest of the river with orange paint on a sidewalk across the street from Saint Therese The Little Flower Catholic Church in Minot, N.D., June 26. (Allen Fredrickson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Emergency workers survey flood damage June 26, in Burlington, N.D. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. John and Deb Walker, evacuated from their home flooded by the Souris River, hug during a church service for three Lutheran congregations held at The Vegas Hotel Sunday, June 26, in Minot, N.D. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Federal workers use a boat to take North Dakota National Guard engineers off their equipment after securing cables to a pedestrian bridge over the flooding Souris River on Saturday, June 25, in Minot, N.D. The plan to drag the debris-filled bridge into a railyard parking lot was suspended because of lightning in the area. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Homes are reflected in floodwaters, with the earthen levee of one house, center, appearing to remain intact in Minot on June 25. (Allen Fredrickson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A member of the National Guard runs down a newly built dike to help residents pack up as sirens sound declaring a mandatory evacuation of Sawyer, N.D., just south of Minot, on June 25. The floodwaters are expected to crest in Minot late Saturday or early Sunday. (Craig Lassig / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Rescue workers help a man who was trapped when his car stalled in flooding from the Souris River on Highway 52 south of Minot, June 25. (Craig Lassig / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A railroad line is covered by floodwater from the Souris River on June 25 in Minot. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Floodwaters of the Souris River flow through a neighborhood in Minot on June 24. The river broke the 1881 record for flooding there, rising so quickly that it could be seen climbing up the side of homes. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Trucks bring in dirt as work continues on the dikes to keep back the Souris River in Minot on June 24. (Craig Lassig / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Members of the North Dakota National Guard place sandbags on top of the dike that surrounds a library and fire station in Minot on June 24. (Craig Lassig / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Floodwaters of the Souris River breach a levee and flood a neighborhood on June 24 in Minot. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. A homemade measuring stick marks feet above the ground as the Souris River rises in Minot on June 24. (Craig Lassig / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. A farm house and barn are surrounded by floodwaters from the Souris River near Velva, N.D., on June 24. The flooding is being fed by heavy rain upstream and water releases from reservoirs. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Floodwaters from the Souris River surround a farm house and barn near Burlington, N.D., on June 24. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. A tractor-trailer drives through floodwaters from the Souris River on Highway 2 near Velva, N.D., on June 24. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. National Guard Sgt. Chris Franck naps in the Burlington, N.D., fire hall after a shift on flood duty on June 24. At least one-third of the town's 1,000 residents were forced to evacuate. (Dale Wetzel / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Flood waters begin to pour through a breached levee and and around the Minot Country Club on June 23 in Minot. Officials in North Dakota's fourth-largest city said Thursday they had done all they could to protect critical infrastructure from the rising Souris River as it headed toward a record flood. (Christian Randolph / The Grand Forks Herald via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Volunteers race to add two more feet of sand bags to a massive dike around Mary Dittus' family gas station. Higher crest estimates of the Souris River flood waters were announced and more evacuations were ordered in Minot, on Thursday. (Craig Lassig / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Kathy Siverton steps over sandbags as she packs up her belongings and evacuates her home on Thursday in Minot. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Sounthbound traffic is backed up on the Highway 83 bypass as residents flee the rising flood waters from the Souris river, Thursday, in Minot. (Christian Randolph / The Grand Forks Herald via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. A neighborhood is submerged by flood water from the Souris River Thursday, in Minot. (Christian Randolph / The Grand Forks Herald via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Air Force Staff Sergeant Tina Miller and other volunteers race to finish a dike around the Little Flower Catholic Church after higher crest estimates of the Souris River flood waters were announced and more evacuations were ordered in Minot, North Dakota on Thursday, June 23. Reports state that up to one third of the city could end up underwater. (Craig Lassig / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Members of the North Dakota National Guard keep watch of the Souris River floodwaters in downtown Minot, N.D., on June 23. Nearly 11,000 residents have evacuated. (Craig Lassig / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Zach Peterson measures the height of a dike to prepare for Souris River floodwaters in Minot, on June 23. (Craig Lassig / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. National Guard personnel and members of the media watch as floodwaters from the Souris River threaten residential property as flood water is over topping earthen dikes in Minot, North Dakota on Thursday. (Allen Fredrickson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Crews continue to reinforce an earthen levee along the Souris River on Thursday in Minot, N.D. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Members of the North Dakota National Guard work through the night building dikes as the Souris River floodwaters rise in Minot, N.D., early on June 23. (Craig Lassig / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Floodwaters from the Souris river begin to flood a Minot neighborhood on June 22. As many as 10,000 people raced to evacuate Wednesday as water began spilling over Minot's levees. The river, which begins in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan and flows for a short distance though North Dakota, was all but certain to inundate thousands of homes and businesses during the next week. (Christian Randolph / The Grand Forks Herald via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Frank Hughes, right, and Cheyenne Johnson pass the time in the temporary disaster relief shelter set up at the Municipal Auditorium in Minot, N.D. on June 22. (Christian Randolph / The Grand Forks Herald via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Darrin Cox and Shawna Newell help evacuate a home in Minot, N.D., on June 22, before the final order to evacuate was given. (Will Kincaid / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Construction crews build up a levee along the Souris River in Minot, N.D., on June 22. (Will Kincaid / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. This evacuated apartment building in Minot, N.D., was spraypainted on June 22 with a black line and "1969" -- a reference to how high the last big flood rose. The current flood is likely to be seven feet higher. (Will Kincaid / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. Soldiers with the North Dakota National Guard place sandbags on a temporary levee in Minot, N.D., on June 22. Some 500 soldiers were in the town of 40,000. (Patrick Moes / U.S. Army Corp of Engineers) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Other parts of North Dakota are getting hit by flooding on the Missouri River. This home near Bismarck was being swallowed up by Missouri River waters on June 22. (Brian Gehring / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  1. Image:
    Charles Rex Arbogast / AP
    Above: Slideshow (45) Flooding in North Dakota - Minot, N.D.
  2. Image: A community of homes is surrounded by floodwaters near Blair, Nebraska
    Lane Hickenbottom / Reuters
    Slideshow (11) Flooding in North Dakota - Midwest

Interactive: Flooding 2011

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,