MINOT, N.D. -- Geese and airboats on patrol shared the streets of Minot on Friday as the Souris River set a new record for flooding, rising so quickly that it could be seen climbing up the side of homes in the North Dakota city.
The Souris broke a more than 130-year-old record at noon when it measured 1,558.52 feet above sea level at the city's Broadway Bridge. That was about 9.5 feet above flood stage and a half-foot higher than the record set in 1881.
Gov. Jack Dalrymple said the Souris was flowing over most levees in the city and, on his helicopter tour, he could see it in the streets and against most houses in an evacuation zone. That was nearly 5,000 houses.
The river is expected to go as much as 6 or 7 feet higher over the weekend, fed by heavy rain upstream and water releases from Canadian reservoirs.
In a sign of how high the water could go, Dalrymple said it would be close whether a levee protecting the Broadway Bridge, a major north-south artery, would be high enough. That levee is higher than nearby rooftops.
A car parked near the bridge that had been dry Friday morning was submerged by midday as the river advanced. Nearby, about a half-dozen gophers found themselves stranded in a small and shrinking dry patch. Furniture store workers cheered as one of the gophers swam 20 yards to safety.
Minot expected widespread flood damage, and as many as 10,000 residents, about one-fourth of the city's population, were ordered from their homes earlier this week. Crews focused on protecting critical infrastructure to avoid an expanded evacuation.
"We don't like to lose," Capt. Jeff Hoffer, an Army National Guard officer, said during a tour of flooded areas Friday. "This is very disheartening. I feel badly for all the people."
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service launched four boats on Friday to patrol flooded neighborhoods, ready to respond to 911 calls. City officials said no injuries or incidents had been reported overnight. The evacuation zone was empty except for emergency officials and the geese, who paddled in about 5 feet of water washing down the streets.
George Moe, whose house was about a block from the water's edge, returned briefly to pick up some keys. Moe said the only thing left in his house was the mounted head of an antelope shot by his wife, who died about three years ago.
Moe, 63, said he had lived in the house for 40 years. He worried about it as well as the shop where he works as a mechanic; it was taking on water and he was unsure he'd have a job after the flood.
"I hate to see something go to hell after 40 years," he said. "There ain't much you can do."
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Thursday accelerated water releases from the upstream Lake Darling dam. In just four days, the predicted release of water from the dam more than doubled -- from 11,000 cubic feet per second to 29,000. National Weather Service hydrologist Steve Buan laid the blame on 4 to 6 inches of rain that fell last week in largely rural -- and saturated -- areas to the north.
With peak water levels expected Saturday or Sunday, officials in North Dakota's fourth-largest city said they have done everything they can to protect critical infrastructure. Minot Mayor Curt Zimbelman said dikes have been raised as much as possible around the city's sewer lift station and can't be raised any higher. The city was confident the water treatment plant was protected.
"We need to hope that they hold," Zimbelman said.
The city issued a voluntary evacuation notice Thursday to 400 more people in the river valley, although officials said damage to those homes might be no more than water in basements.
City Council President Dean Frantsvog said authorities expect "a large portion of" the 4,400 homes and 200 businesses that have been evacuated "will be inundated."
In Burlington, a town of about 1,000 people a few miles upstream on the confluence of the Souris and Des Lacs rivers, city officials abandoned sandbagging as hopeless. About a third of 320 houses are expected to be lost in the town that was founded in 1883 and is the oldest in Ward County.
"We're no longer able to save the city," Burlington Mayor Jerome Gruenberg said Thursday.
Burlington officials instead sent people to help with a frenzied labor around Minot, a town best known for its Air Force base but also an important agricultural center and home to many laborers drawn to the oil boom in western North Dakota.
Heavy equipment hauled dirt and clay to raise dikes wherever possible -- an effort Zimbelman said would continue until rising water made it impossible. Workers and National Guard members were the only people to be seen in evacuated areas.
By midday, water was rising toward the second level on some homes.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)