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Floods of Minot

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The Souris River flood of 2011 was devastating in Minot. Even though people banded together to strengthen flood defenses, the water still flowed over levies on June 22. Thousands of homes were destroyed.

The people had dealt with floods before, and they felt they knew the drill. On this date in 1976, a New York Times article described how Minot looked as the city prepared for another. About a week before, the city began earnestly preparing. James D. Ruyak, the man in charge of flooding operations, hired 300 private trucks through competitive bidding, and the Army Corp of Engineers helped construct 35 miles of earthen dikes. The National Guard set up a temporary television studio for the mayor to make flood announcements, and people from the Minot air base volunteered to help with evacuations as about 12,000 residents left their homes. An auditorium scheduled to host the Shrine circus that week looked like a department store instead as thousands of people moved in couches, stoves, fridges, and many other household items to protect them from the water.

The city was designated a Federal disaster area, meaning evacuated residents could be reimbursed for alternate lodging. The experience wasn’t the same for everyone. As well-to-do families planned vacations saying things like, “We haven’t had this much fun since the last flood,” less fortunate families gathered in shelters with little privacy for weeks on end.

The 1976 flood was the fifth in seven years, and the frequency was attributed in part to the practice of wetlands being drained upstream to accommodate farming. Before 1969, the river still flooded, but it had only done so three times in 77 years. Rather than addressing the underlying causes, it seems people had adapted to it. As Mayor Chester Reitin said back then, “We’ve done it so often, it’s automatic.”

Dakota Datebook written by Lucid Thomas


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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