Record Rain Leading to Flooding in North Dakota

May 22, 2013

Heavy rains that have been falling since late last week have led to flooding in North Dakota that has forced some residents from their homes and threatened a dam.

Water from a creek and water that is moving overland flooded Crystal, a Pembina County town of about 160 residents, late on May 20. Many residents voluntarily left their homes and were staying with friends or relatives, County Emergency Manager Andrew Kirking told The Associated Press.

“The county slopes west to east,” he said. “We’ve got rain runoff from the western part of the county just flowing naturally downstream, through ditches and drainage channels.”

He estimated that half a foot or more of rain had fallen in the western part of the county, which is in northeastern North Dakota.

Days of heavy rainfall have swelled creeks and rivers and threatened roadways throughout the state. Several cities recorded record-high rainfall on Sunday and Monday, including Grand Forks and Jamestown, according to National Weather Service reports. A flood watch remained posted for the eastern part of the state Tuesday.

Crystal Mayor Larry McCollum told KFGO radio that about half of the homes in town had suffered water damage, despite efforts Monday to stack about 8,000 sandbags. The boiler room and locker rooms at the town’s school were also damaged, according to KVLY-TV.

Kirking and McCollum said early Tuesday that the water was no longer rising.

“We’re just kind of waiting for it to drop, hopefully fast, but it will be a day or so,” McCollum said.

No injuries had been reported. Officials set up a shelter Monday night in Cavalier, about 16 miles from Crystal, but only one family showed up, Kirking said.

Northwest of Crystal, local, state and federal engineers were building a temporary levee to prevent water from eroding the emergency spillway at the earth-and-concrete Renwick Dam on the Tongue River. If the half-century-old dam were to fail, it would flood a few rural homes and possibly the city of Cavalier, where about 1,300 people live.

“We are confident that despite the threat we will be able to mitigate this disaster,” Kirking said.

No evacuation notices had been posted downstream of the dam early Tuesday, though the county made residents aware of the situation. Even if the dam were to fail, Cavalier residents would have an hour or two to evacuate, Kirking said.

The fast-rising Pembina River in the county forced campers to evacuate the city park in Walhalla on Monday. The majority of campers managed to escape to higher ground before being inundated, but some recreational vehicles had to be pulled out, the Grand Forks Herald reported.

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