Interactive: Flooding 2011

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updated 6/30/2011 5:10:17 PM ET 2011-06-30T21:10:17

Workers in North Dakota's booming oil industry and related jobs had taken up any empty space in Minot before the swollen Souris River raced into the city, filling thousands of homes with water and turning the housing shortage into a crisis.

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Housing is tight across the state's oil patch, with some workers in far-flung areas living in cars, campers and hotels. In Minot, the biggest city near the state's oil patch, new construction enabled people to find a roof to put over their heads. More than 1,000 apartments and 600 homes were built in the past three years.

But the flood that drowned some 4,100 homes last week destroyed those gains and set the city back. Many people are now living in vans, sleeping in tents and staying at shelters. Even more have bunked up with friends or relatives.

"We were already in a major building mode and desperately trying to catch up to the oil boom before the flood and this is going to make it worse," said Darrell Linnertz, Minot's building inspector for the past two decades. "This will make the housing shortage almost ridiculous — people are going to have to live anywhere they can."

The flood broke a more than 130-year-old record for high water. In some cases, the river reached the eaves of homes. A Federal Emergency Management Agency survey done by airplane found about 800 houses covered by more than 10 feet of water and 2,400 under at least 6 feet. For most residents, that means they've lost anything on their first floor and in finished basements, which are common.

The city will need to build — and build fast — and that creates another problem: where to house construction workers?

"There physically aren't enough companies here to do the work and outside contractors will have to come in," Linnertz said. "I don't know how that will happen."

It's not clear how many homes will have to be razed. Mayor Curt Zimbelman said demolition may be the only solution for nearly one-fifth of the homes hit with the highest water. But city officials said the final number will depend on several things, including how long the water remains.

"A lot of it is going to depend on the structure and how it was built and how old it was," Zimbelman said.

City Council member Dave Lehner owns a Craftsman-style home that was built in 1908 and listed locally as a historic structure. He had to evacuate the house last week and hasn't seen it since. He's heard reports that it and others in his neighborhood are standing in about 3 feet of water.

"I've heard the water isn't high enough for boat motors, so that's a good thing," said Lehner, who has been staying at his grandparents' farm outside of the city.

His house, with its quartersawn oak doors and trim and leaded glass windows is irreplaceable, and not just monetarily, Lehner said. It contains an apartment that was once home to a cousin of big band leader Lawrence Welk, one of North Dakota's most famous sons. Welk routinely stayed at the home while touring in the 1930s — until his cousin kicked him out over a telephone bill dispute, he said.

"I'm not going to try to save my house, I'm going to," said Lehner, who has lived there for 30 years. "This house has survived floods in 1923, 1927, 1953 and 1969, and hopefully it will survive this one."

Linnertz, the building inspector, said no criteria have been set yet at the local or federal level to determine whether a home can or should be rebuilt or moved. This flood stretched far beyond the designated flood plain, so the city's earlier plan is "out the window now," he said.

Linnertz said he would like to see some of the most flood-prone homes razed to make way for a greenbelt, though that may be a tough sell to locals.

"Minot sits in a valley but we can't take the whole valley out of use," he said.

Ed Conley, a Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman, said he has seen more than 200 disasters in his 20 years with the agency, and the Souris River flood is among the worst.

Thousands of residents will find their homes filled with muck when the water recedes. Contents left behind are being "pushed and pulled around by the current" and can do significant structural damage, Conley said.

"The more water you have and the longer it stays up, the more damage you have," he said. "There are some homes here that just won't be repairable."

Bev Collings, Grand Forks' building and zoning administrator, said nearly 1,500 homes and other structures there were demolished after the 1997 Red River flood. Grand Forks officials learned lessons they have since shared with other communities: homes heated with fuel oil can be lost because the oil soaks in, creating dangerous vapors; brick foundations are more likely to have damage than sturdier ones; and mold can be a major problem, particularly in warm weather.

Overall, the structural integrity of the home is most important, Collings said.

"If the bones are OK, it probably can be saved if it hasn't been soaking too long," she said. But she said, there's one thing she knows for certain: "They have a long, long road ahead of them."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Minot, N.D.

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  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
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  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
  3. Image: A community of homes is surrounded by floodwaters near Blair, Nebraska
    Lane Hickenbottom / Reuters
    Slideshow (11) Midwest flooding - Midwest
  4. Image:
    Charles Rex Arbogast / AP
    Slideshow (45) Midwest flooding - Minot, N.D.

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