The mayor in Minot on Tuesday ordered the evacuation of about a quarter of the city's residents living near the fast-rising Souris River.
About 10,000 people are affected by the mandatory evacuation. Mayor Curt Zimbelman said the residents, who live along a four-mile stretch of the river, are expected to be out of their homes by tonight in part to give construction crews room to raise and reinforce earthen dikes in the area.
"Safety has got to come first when you got the job I got," said Zimbelman, whose north-central North Dakota city has about 40,000 residents. He added that, "There will be a lot of heavy equipment moving around and we just can't have people in the area."
He said he's not sure how long residents will be displaced. He was hopeful evacuees could stay in emergency shelters, or with friends or family outside of the flood zone in the city.
The National Weather Service said it expected the Souris rise to 1,556.6 feet above sea level Thursday night because of heavy rains in the region. The river level was at 1,553.2 feet on Tuesday, or more than 4 feet above flood stage.
Zimbleman said the temporary earthen dikes had been built to protect the city to a river level of 1,555 feet above sea level. The mayor said he was confident the higher levees would protect the city, but "it is Mother Nature were dealing with."
He said the number of North Dakota National Guard troops in the city would be immediately boosted from about 80 to 340. Hundreds of volunteers are needed to help fill sandbags, he said.
The river runs from Canada through north-central North Dakota. It loops down through Minot and back up into Canada in a "U" shape.
North of the border it is called the Souris, which is French for "mouse." South of the border and in the Minot area, it is often called the Mouse River.
Joshua Scheck, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Bismarck, said the Souris in North Dakota has been "in and out of flood stage since mid-March." River levels have been over flood stage of 1,549 feet since April 23, Scheck said.
"Very high snowpack and rain led to almost all of the storage in reservoirs being taken up, including Canadian reservoirs," he said.
Officials in Canada began releasing water from bloated reservoirs there in March, Scheck said.
Releases also increased at Lake Darling, about 20 miles upstream of Minot. Those releases, combined with runoff, rain and increased flows from the Des Lacs River which meets the Souris below Lake Darling, led to high water in Minot, he said.
The region has gotten about 3 inches of rain since Monday, "adding insult to injury," Scheck said.