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'It started as such a beautiful day': Minot residents retreat as water rises

Leon Delker, right, and Leslie Coughlin move items out of Delker's house Thursday in Minot. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

MINOT, N.D. - As sun poured through the valley on Thursday evening, residents found it hard to believe dark floodwaters were quickly washing through their city at catastrophic levels.

"It started as such a beautiful day, and then they said we're getting more water," said resident Leon Belker as he and family and friends moved the last of his belongings from his home, about a block from the mandatory evacuation zones.

After original calculations estimated Lake Darling would be increasing releases to about 11,000 cubic feet per second, those estimates jumped to releases of an expected 29,000 cfs by today after areas to the north received up to 6 inches of rain. The Souris River is expected to rise above the 1881 record-making flood by up to 7 feet by Saturday or Sunday. Earlier in the day, residents near the evacuation zones were cautioned to get out while they could.

Just down the street from Belker, Gregg and Brenda Orvik were moving their belongings to higher ground. The historic 1969 floodwaters never reached the sunshine-yellow Victorian home on Second Street Northeast, one block north of the mandatory evacuation zones. Inside the home built in 1890, original woodwork such as the ornate staircase and crown molding remains as well as the original porch and window panes.

Brenda Orvik said the history that could be lost if floodwaters destroy her home is devastating.

Earlier in the day, only an hour after officials delivered news that the evacuation areas would be widened from the nine evacuation zones to most of the lower-lying valley, the bridge once full of pedestrians and vehicles suffered eerie silence broken only by the noise of trucks hauling materials so workers could build up levees to save what they could.

Broadway, or U.S. Highway 83, was the only north-south traffic route through the city after all other bridges were closed earlier this week. City and state Department of Transportation officials hoped to keep it open, feverishly working to build surrounding dikes as high as possible. But by 2 p.m. Thursday, officials said the bridge would need to close immediately, dividing the city in two.

"I live on the (north) hill, and I feel absolutely guilty for it right now because we are safe," said Minot resident Deb Behlers.

BNSF railroad employees covered an earthen levee built up to just a few feet below the roof of the recently rebuilt historic Minot depot.

Frustration and weariness from the flood fight were setting in across the river basin, although most people were trying to stay positive.

Although Kelly Huerta of Burlington helped sandbag her city until 1 a.m., later Thursday morning she was busy helping co-workers in Minot.

"People have been amazing here," Huerta said.

Red Cross representatives estimated about 220 of the 11,000 people evacuated earlier this week were staying in public shelters at the Minot Auditorium and the Minot State University Dome. The rest were staying with family, friends or even strangers who live on higher ground who offered their homes to evacuees.

As the river continues to swell, so do households that have opened up doors to evacuees. A list of about 30 homes was posted on a local television station's website.

The city remained open for business, with most businesses and restaurants open. Many restaurants and services had signs on the front door asking for patrons' patience because staffing was short due to evacuations.

Dan Klingbeil, who lives in the hills of the city, did not have to evacuate. Like many of his co-workers at RHI Supply in Minot, he was helping others gather belongings from their homes and move to higher ground on his off-hours.

Klingbeil said the evacuations have taken a toll on the elderly more than anyone.

"They're just giving up," he said. "They're like zombies."

Brenda Grubb stood on the deserted Broadway bridge and strained to see her home, which she knew had already fallen victim to the Souris River rushing through the city.

On Thursday, questions were beginning to arise on how the city will recover from such widespread devastation.

Grubb was among those, who although stoic while watching the water swallow her home, was unsure how she would remain in the city that was already suffering from a lack of available housing due to oil field workers who had snatched up most of the rental properties and many long-term hotel rooms.

"Where else do I go? I have a job here (in Minot), but I don't have a house here anymore," she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530