Tens of thousands of residents were urged to leave their homes late Friday because of fast-moving floodwaters gushing through the city’s streets.
Most residents in this city of 50,000 will likely have water in their basements in the morning, Emergency Manager Jim Campbell said.
“Absolutely do not sleep in your basements anywhere in Grand Forks tonight,” Campbell said. “Anyone in Grand Forks with relatives out of the city we would highly recommend you stay with them the next day or two.”
Red River water from a dike that was breached earlier Friday was spreading out over the city.
Campbell said so much water was moving in that it was not worth trying to stop. He said it was best to let is spread throughout the city because greater damage could occur by trying to contain it with new dikes, he said.
Streets near downtown filled with water within minutes, sending residents racing to their cars in a mad scramble to escape the rising river, which has threatened communities all along the North Dakota-Minnesota border.
Water rose so quickly, many residents were unable to rescue their cars. Some had to leave in city dump trucks or National Guard Humvees.
Shelters were available and the Grand Forks Air Force Base, about 10 miles northwest of the city, was preparing to take in people.
Phyllis Hart said she had to flee her home, along with her husband, Bill, and their young son, Dylan. Their home had been dry only minutes before, she said.
“We had no warning,” she said while trudging through fast-moving, knee-deep water just outside their home.
The National Weather Service raised its projected crest for the Red in Grand Forks to 54 feet, expected late today. Flood stage is 28 feet. The weather service said the river was at 52.6 feet at 7 p.m.
Earlier Friday, about 2,000 people, including 116 residents of a nursing home, were awakened by sirens before dawn and taken from four riverside areas before water surged over one dike.
It didn’t take long before 300 homes were underwater, along with the nursing home and the school. “Some of these houses out there it’s just the roof sticking out now,” Mayor Pat Owens said.
Most residents of the Almonte Living Center were taken to an elementary school. Their wheelchairs filled the library as they watched flood coverage on television.
Vern Sander, 34, said he left his home Thursday with his wife and 16-month-old son.
“I emptied my house and took what I needed,” he said, seemingly resigned to losing his house. “If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen.”
Across the river, about 2,000 people in East Grand Forks, Minn., left their homes after one dike broke and the main dike in the central part of town began weakening.
“It just cracked open. Everyone was yelling, ‘Get away! Get away!’ We all turned around and ran. People were slipping and falling in the mud,” said 12-year-old James Amenhauser.
North of Grand Forks, in Walsh County, Sheriff Lauren Wild advised people living east of Interstate 29 and north of Oslo, Minn., to evacuate as the Red River continued rising.
In East Grand Forks, about 400 National Guardsmen were on their way to help 200 already on hand.
“The flood is just testing us, I guess, as much as it possibly could,” said Lynn Stauss, mayor of East Grand Forks. “We put a sandbag down, you go away a few minutes, and it seems like the river has risen that much.”
“Every sandbag dike in town is vulnerable,” said Gary Sanders, the emergency manager for Polk County, where East Grand Forks is located. Officials said several hundred homes there were evacuated, though they did not have an exact count.
Jerry Handy, an airman at Grand Forks Air Force base, was leaving his mother-in-law’s house in East Grand Forks with his wife, Stacy.
“I wanted to fight, but she won’t let me,” he said.
In one East Grand Forks neighborhood called Folson Park, two dozen homes were overrun by water shortly after noon Friday when the Red Lake River, which feeds into the Red, broke through sandbag and tube dikes.
“I was still moving stuff up from the basement,” said Mary Anderson, who fled her home with her sister. “We fought this thing. We fought it all night long,” she added, fighting tears.
Melting snow from a blizzard that pounded the state early this month is blamed for swelling rivers and spreading water across the flatlands of eastern North Dakota.