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The Souris River begins to pour into a neighborhood after levees could no longer hold back floodwaters Thursday in Minot. The city's evacuation zone expanded Thursday as the river spilled over dikes. Christian Randolph / Forum Communications Co.

SWAMPED BY THE SOURIS: Flood predictions worsen for Minot

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MINOT, N.D. - The Souris River flood, already predicted to be the biggest in recorded history, was predicted on Thursday to get even bigger.

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At the start of the week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expected about 9,700 cubic feet per second of water to flow through Minot, while the National Weather Service expected the river would crest 1,555.1 feet above sea level midweek.

But according to the latest estimate, there will be some 29,000 cfs by Saturday, and the crest will be 1,564.5 feet early Sunday morning. That's an increase of 9 feet in just a few days.

Officials faced strong questioning at a news conference Thursday regarding how predictions were so far off. The city is now advising residents who live just outside of the evacuation zone to move their belongings to the second floor.

Lt. Col. Kendall Bergmann of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said he is well aware of the frustration. But even if he knew sooner what he knows now, he said he would still be helpless to lessen the flood level.

The corps controls a dam upstream at Lake Darling and works with Canadian partners who control three reservoirs upstream in Saskatchewan, he said. All the reservoirs are maxed, and the water must be released.

"We try to take into account Mother Nature, and she does have a vote in what goes on. In times like this, she has 51 percent of the vote," he said.

Saskatchewan, the source of the Souris River, has seen record rains from the beginning of May to the middle of June, saturating the soil so it can't hold much more water, said Steve Buan, a hydrologist with the weather service's North Central River Forecast Center in Chanhassen, Minn.

The projections accounted for all that, he said. What they hadn't accounted for was 4 to 6 inches of rain falling over a broad area earlier this week, he said.

Compounding the problem is that the reservoirs are already straining, he said, so when they must release water, that flow is joined by water draining from the rest of the basin downstream, adding to an enormous volume of water.

"Everything is full, and there's nowhere to put it," Bergmann said.

Minot is the state's fourth-largest city, with a population of 41,000. On Wednesday, 11,000 residents were ordered to evacuate the river valley.

The North Dakota Legislature is slated for a special session in November to address redistricting and other state issues. Gov. Jack Dalrymple said Thursday that he does not now foresee needing to call a special session earlier to discuss flood issues.

The state has emergency fund appropriations and can turn to the Bank of North Dakota for funds for matching purposes, he said.

"The Legislature has set up a very good contingency system for us to access emergency funds," he said.

In the meantime, other agencies are scrambling to fight the flood as best they can. The National Guard had 450 soldiers and airmen in the area Wednesday but by this morning will have 750, said Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk.

He's also in conversation with Minot Air Force Base about possibly having its airmen assist in the flood fight, he said.

Every state agency is engaged, Dalrymple said, most significantly the Department of Transportation, which is moving 100,000 sandbags, sandbag machines and pumps from Bismarck to Minot. Road closures are anticipated, he said, but the department will work on detours with the goal of preventing any area from being completely cut off.

The good news is that the city has ditched plans to enlarge the evacuation zone. Mayor Curt Zimbelman said that when the crest hits, the water will reach the steep hills on each side of the river and that an increase in the water level wouldn't affect many more residents. The city simply advises that they get out, he said, but it's up to them.

The mayor ended the press briefing on an upbeat note, but his tone sounded grim.

"I ask the citizens of Minot to stay strong, and we'll get through this," he said.

Forum Communications multimedia correspondent Teri Finneman contributed to this report.

Ty-Uyen Tran writes for the Grand Forks Herald

See the latest Minot flood inundation map here

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