Minot, N.D., Residents Face Evacuations

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Residents of Minot, N.D., face another round of flooding as the Souris River is expected to overwhelm levees Wednesday. Thousands already have been forced to evacuate. Robert Siegel speaks with Kim Fundingsland, a writer with the Minot Daily News who is covering the floods and evacuations.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

For a moment, the people of Minot, North Dakota, thought they dodged a bullet. Ten thousand residents were evacuated earlier this month as the Souris River swelled with snowmelt and steady rain. When the river calmed, they were allowed to return but not for long. The Souris is now roaring back. It's on pace to surpass not only the worst flood that many in Minot can remember back in 1969, but the worst flood on record. That was in 1881.

Kim Fundingsland is a staff writer for the Minot Daily News, and he joins us now from Minot. And Kim, where do things stand today? I understand the water is rising quickly enough that the city is using sirens to let folks know it's time to go.

Mr. KIM FUNDINGSLAND (Writer, Minot Daily News): Yes, that's the case. The water began topping some of the levees on the west side of town where the river enters Minot shortly after 8 a.m. Central Time. They did use the outdoor loudspeaker system to warn people to get moving. And just a few minutes ago, they announced that the sirens would be sounded, that the entire river valley, some 10- to 11,000 people would have to leave immediately, and those sirens should be - they might go off during this interview.

SIEGEL: And are you seeing generally full compliance with these warnings, or do many people stay behind and risk it?

Mr. FUNDINGSLAND: No, compliance has been great because it's just - it's grave danger. It's disastrous what's going to happen. People like to stay in their house if they think they're going to have a flooded basement or a few feet on the lower level, something like that, but this puts it at the gutters, the rooftops, the chimneys, the weather vanes. They understand that they can't stay there.

On top of that, the National Guard has gone door to door and made sure now that everyone is either out or knows they have to be out within a few minutes.

SIEGEL: Now, Minot already has an extensive levee system, I gather built by the Army Corps of Engineers. These waters are now overtopping them. Is it simply overtopping them, or have there been real breaches in the levees?

Mr. FUNDINGSLAND: Good question. The levee system in Minot was built following a channelization project in the 1970s in response to the 1969 flood, which is the benchmark flood in this city's history.

Some of the dirt removed in the channelization work was placed along the riverbanks. It's not a perfect levee. It's not recognized as a levee or a dike by the Corps of Engineers. But it's what Minot has been living with for years.

When the surge came up a few years ago, a call went out to the Corps of Engineers, and they built very substantial secondary dikes, and that was a very comforting time because those dikes were so substantial and so high, and it is those dikes that are now being topped today.

SIEGEL: Whoa. Now, you mentioned the flood of 1969. Were you around then, or do you have family lore of that...

Mr. FUNDINGSLAND: I was here then, a senior in high school.

SIEGEL: What was it like?

Mr. FUNDINGSLAND: It was heartbreaking. When you're 18, 19 years old, you almost enjoy filling sandbags and slopping through water and paddling canoes, but when you see what it does to people and what it did afterwards, totally wiping people out, some that don't have time in their lives to recover, some that have no resources to recover. It's just as sad a situation as you can imagine.

And the sirens are going off right now, by the way. So that means there's nobody left, and yeah, it's just left to wash away. It's just so sad, so sad.

SIEGEL: You're just looking at a downtown that one assumes will just have to be - salvage what you can but rebuilt, essentially, from buildings that are inundated.

Mr. FUNDINGSLAND: Right, and there'll be a lot of people that just walk away. In fact, there's a lot of people that knew they were going to so flooded and had so much work to do that they just walked out the door. They're just done.

SIEGEL: Well, Kim, good luck to you, and thanks for talking with us about it.

Mr. FUNDINGSLAND: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's Kim Fundingsland, who's a writer for the Minot Daily News in Minot, North Dakota.

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