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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
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The Souris River is slowly retreating in Minot, North Dakota. The river passed its peak on Sunday morning but not before reaching some of the highest levels seen in more than a century. Four thousand homes are flooded and a quarter of the town's 40,000 residents are displaced. And even though the water levels are creeping down, people still have to fight to save what's left.
NPR's Carrie Kahn is there.
CARRIE KAHN: There's a constant stream of dump trucks crossing the main bridge in downtown Minot. Construction crews continue to build, fill and shore up levees aimed at keeping what's left of this town dry. The city's records date back to the late 1800s, they show there's never been this much water coming through town.
Michael Bart is in charge of the Army Corp of Engineers' effort here and is trying to make sure the levees hold.
Mr. MICHAEL BART (District chief of engineering and construction, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers): The river is trying to erode the levee, the river is trying to go through the levee, the river is trying to go underneath the levee, and so we're battling that constantly.
KAHN: Bart says the water level may be dropping, but he won't lower his guard.
Mr. BART: We're walking these things and watching them 24 hours a day. At some points we are watching these things every 30 minutes. Somebody's walking that stretch of the levee every 30 minutes. And so, this is vigilance.
(Soundbite of water)
KAHN: Figuring out just how much water is still coming Minot's way is Brent Hanson's job. He's a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and he measures the river every day.
Mr. BRENT HANSON (U.S. Geological Survey): Are we lined up?
KAHN: About 25 miles north of the city, Hanson sits in a small flat bottom boat floating in flood waters. He's got a computer on his lap and a small bright orange measuring device floating next to the boat.
Mr. HANSON: Okay, we can start.
KAHN: This river is normally just 30-feet wide, now it stretches more than 2,000 feet from shore to shore.
What's that thing right there, that building? It looks like a chimney in the middle of the water.
Mr. HANSON: That's an outhouse.
KAHN: The normally dry river banks make this stretch of the Souris a favorite spot for bird watchers and the wildlife service installed the outhouse for them. But the thick groves of ash and oak trees are now almost completely submerged.
Mr. HANSON: The channel should be coming up in a couple of feet here.
KAHN: We're still not in the river channel?
Mr. HANSON: No.
(Soundbite of motorboat)
KAHN: A few minutes later Hanson reaches the other side and takes his readings. He'll make three more trips back and forth, then average the results. His numbers are used by everyone from the National Weather Service to the governor's office.
North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple says it's not that easy to get accurate river information north of the border. Record rainfall in Canada swelled the Souris, which begins north of the border and flows into the U.S. All river data is shared over the phone. Dalrymple says that's not good enough.
Governor JACK DALRYMPLE (Republican, North Dakota): Had we been able to read their gauges directly, probably could have gained another day of preparation time.
(Soundbite of beeping)
KAHN: Fighting the river back in Minot, the Army Corps' Michael Bart says a section of the primary levee started leaking over the weekend and crews had to build another earthen wall. Four houses were left behind the new levee.
Mr. BART: Unfortunately, those four houses may get flooded in order to save the whole neighborhood.
KAHN: That must have been a hard decision to make.
Mr. BART: Well, actually no. You do what you need to do and you get on with it.
KAHN: Bart will be getting on with it for many more days to come. He says while this river crested, the fight to control it is far from over.
Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Minot, North Dakota.
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