The river that loops down from Canada through north central North Dakota is bloated by heavy spring snowmelt and rain on both sides of the border. The flooding in Minot, where about 41,000 people live, is now expected to dwarf the historic flood of 1969, when the river reached 1,554.5 feet above sea level. The river is expected to hit nearly 1,563 feet this weekend, according to the National Weather Service.
The 1969 flood prompted the Army Corps of Engineers to build a dike system that has been beefed up several times this spring. Zimbelman told KFGO radio on Tuesday that there is not enough time to raise the dikes any more to handle the fresh onslaught of water from recent heavy rains, and that at least 4,000 homes and businesses could be flooded. He said it was not easy to tell the community that flood-protection efforts have failed and thousands of homes could end up under water.
"It's probably one of the more difficult things I've had to do," he said. "We're not used to losing ... I think people understood there was not much we could do about it."
Zimbelman said officials are focusing efforts on building dikes to protect critical infrastructure such as the sewer system, water plants, schools and City Hall. Officials at Minot International Airport, which sits on a hill on the north part of town, issued a statement Tuesday saying the airport will remain fully operational.
Similar efforts are being made to protect infrastructure in the nearby town of Burlington, where about 1,200 people live.
About 10,000 Minot residents were evacuated earlier this month before the river hit 1,554.1 feet and then later let back into their homes, though they were cautioned to be ready to leave again quickly. They have been ordered out again by Wednesday night. North Dakota National Guard commander Dave Sprynczynatyk said the evacuation order affects about 11,000 people in 4,200 homes. KXMC-TV reported that an evacuation center was open at the Minot Auditorium.
Ann Hoggarth, who lives right next to the river, told The Associated Press that she feels numb and very emotional. She is struggling to move some of her belongings to higher ground.
"I've got three stories so I'm hoping the furniture will be OK upstairs, but I'm a single mom and I had to ship my kids off to their dad, so I don't have anyone to help me," she said.
Zimbelman said officials are considering enlarging the evacuation zone.
"We are going to become a pool or a lake," Zimbelman said in comments reported by KXMC. "It is hard to accept and believe."
All residents along the river in Ward County also are being urged to leave, including those in Burlington.
The high water is expected to begin hitting Minot by about Thursday, with the river jumping more than seven feet by Saturday. The historical record of 1,558 feet set in 1881 is forecast to be topped on Friday or Saturday. River flows are expected to hit 17,000 cubic feet per second, when the dikes are built to handle only about 11,000 cfs.
"This will be much, much higher than we've ever seen before in history," Gov. Jack Dalrymple said during a visit to Minot on Monday.