4:00am

Mon June 27, 2011
Around the Nation

Historic Floodwaters Begin To Recede In Minot, N.D.

The Souris River is slowly retreating in Minot, N.D., where the river peaked early Sunday at levels not seen in more than a century. About 4,000 homes are flooded and a quarter of the town's 40-thousand residents are displaced.

There is 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 the town dry.

The city's records date back to the late 1800s, and they show there's never been this much water coming through town.

Michael Bart is in charge of the Army Corp of Engineers' effort, and is trying to make sure the levees hold.

"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 are battling that constantly," Bart says.

The water level may be dropping but Bart won't lower his guard.

We're walking these things and watching them 24 hours a day at some points we are watching these things every 30 minutes. Someone is walking that stretch of the levee every 30 minutes. This is vigilance," Bart adds.

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.

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.

The 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," I ask Hanson. "It looks like a chimney sticking out of the water."

"That's an outhouse," Hanson answers.

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 almost completely submerged.

"Channel should be coming up in a couple of feet here," Hanson tells me.

"We're still aren't into the river channel," I ask.

"Nope," Hanson replies.

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 Dahlrymple says it's not been 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.

"Had we been able to read their gauges directly, probably could have gained another day of preparation time," Dahlrymple says.

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.

"Unfortunately, those four houses may get flooded in order to save the whole neighborhood," Bart says.

But he said it wasn't a hard decision to make.

"You do what you need to do and get on with it," Bart adds.

Bart will be getting on with it for many more days to come. He says while this river has crested the fight to control it is far from over.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.