North Dakota Residents Flee Minot's Floodwaters

Some 11,000 people were told to evacuate Minot, North Dakota, Wednesday because of flooding. Residents are expecting floodwaters to reach as high as rooftops. Reporter Perry Olson talks to Renee Montagne about what could end up being record flooding.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Minot, North Dakota is the latest American city to be overwhelmed by a natural disaster. People there have already had to evacuate their homes in the face of flooding once this year. They thought the worst was over. It's not. Earlier this week, the Souris, or Mouse River began rising again. That river runs right through the center of Minot. And yesterday, sirens blared as the levees were breached.

Perry Olson is with the CBS affiliate KXMC in Minot.

And thank you for taking the time out this morning to talk with us.

Mr. PERRY OLSON (Reporter, KXMC): Renee, good to be with you.

MONTAGNE: Now, when the sirens started blaring, what had happened and how many townspeople have and are having to flee?

Mr. OLSON: Well, the number we're being told is anywhere between 10,000 to 12,000. Many thousands of folks displaced for the second time. The major difference being this time it's inevitable that floodwaters never before seen in Minot will definitely be arriving within the next 24 hours.

MONTAGNE: And where are those floodwaters coming from exactly?

Mr. OLSON: Well, the system starts in Canada, which is about 60 miles to our north, and massive, massive rainfall over the last two weeks or so has really created this issue. The reservoirs in Canada, and the United States, as well, just to our north, are filled to the brim.

And dams have to be opened, massive amounts, and that is now sending this wall of water down the system and has the residents, including me, of Minot, basically just running from the Valley with everything we could get out of our homes as quickly as possible.

MONTAGNE: Well, yes, tell us about that wall of water that's reaching what height?

Mr. OLSON: Well, I think the best way for me to describe this is for folks in Minot the flood of 1969 has up to until now gone down as the most devastating in this city's history. This floodwater is expected to be seven feet deeper than 1969. And there were parts of this city in 1969 that were under six to seven feet of water. You do the math and you realize that we're looking at places in town under 15 feet of water.

My home barely had water in '69, yet now I'm looking at about eight feet of water on my main level in my home.

MONTAGNE: So you had to get out. Tell us about your experience, in which, I take it, reflects what thousands of other people have gone through.

Mr. OLSON: It is pretty numbing. And that is the one kind of saving grace in this. It sounds weird to say that. That we did have two to three days before this water hit. And it was an unbelievable time in Minot the last two and a half days - everyone moving everything out of their homes.

My home is basically a shell of what it was. And that is very similar to thousands of others in this city, right now. And now it's sit and wait, watching the water move down this system toward the Magic City, as Minot is known.

MONTAGNE: It's known as the Magic City?

Mr. OLSON: It's known as the Magic City because it's a railroad town. And when it sprung up, it was called magic, how quickly it sprung up. And something I've kind of talked about was, you know, it was magical once how Minot just zoomed up.

And it will take magic, once again, for this city to bounce back. But I think residents are very confident that the magic can return and indeed will stay. People up here are pretty resilient. And we're going to have to be.

MONTAGNE: Perry Olson is a reporter with CBS affiliate KXMC in Minot.

And, you know, good luck to you and all the people there.

Mr. OLSON: Renee, thanks.

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