- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 22, 2011

MINOT, N.D. — Water from the Souris River is expected to start pouring over dikes protecting the North Dakota city of Minot within the hour, the mayor said Wednesday morning.

Mayor Curt Zimbelman, speaking by telephone to KXMC television, said there are several areas along the levees where officials aren’t sure they control the dikes. Officials will sound the city’s sirens when water starts overtopping the levees, and he said that’s imminent.

Zimbelman made the announcement “so people really do their last-minute thing and be prepared to move quickly,” he told the station.

The National Weather Service in Bismarck on Wednesday morning issued a flash flood warning along the Souris River from Burlington through Minot and Logan to Sawyer. The Weather Service said that means that flash flooding is occurring or imminent and it urged residents to move to higher ground.

Thousands of Minot residents had been facing a 6 p.m. deadline to evacuate their homes for a second time in a month as the rising Souris River moved closer to swamping the city with what is predicted to be its worst flood in four decades.

The mayor said the city has just been buying time, and he urged people to be safe as they leave.

“Be cautious and be courteous, I guess,” he told KXMC. “Everybody’s trying to do the same thing. If we work together, the result’s probably going to be the best.”

Water from the Souris River, which loops down from Canada through north central North Dakota and is bloated by heavy spring snowmelt and rain on both sides of the border, is expected to top the city’s levees within two days.

The resulting deluge is expected to dwarf the historic flood of 1969, when the Souris reached 1,554.5 feet above sea level. Zimbelman said the river was already just a tenth of an inch shy of that level at one bridge Tuesday afternoon. It’s expected to hit nearly 1,563 feet this weekend — topping the historical record of 1,558 feet set in 1881 by Friday or Saturday.

About 10,000 Minot residents were evacuated earlier this month before the river hit 1,554.1 feet. They were later allowed to return to their homes, but told to be ready to leave again quickly.

Nearly 500 North Dakota 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 of the impending flood 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.

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