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In North Dakota City, River’s Threat Renewed

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MINOT, N.D. — The city and surrounding valley faced a new round of hurried evacuations as local leaders reported that far more water was coming far sooner than earlier record-breaking estimates. The expected surge of water, which was raised an additional three feet to about eight feet above the 130-year-old record, was moving much faster than expected with peak levels expected to hit the city by Saturday. And with rain in the forecast, the levels could rise even higher.

Rich Addicks for The New York Times

Bobbi Linrud sat atop the garage at her mother's home after she and her brothers moved belongings from the house.

"We're seeing the water rushing in right now," Curt Zimbelman, the mayor of Minot, said in an interview on Thursday. "We're taking a helicopter up later today to take a look, and I'm really concerned with what I'm going to see."  

From the Broadway Bridge, the main thoroughfare that links to the two sides of the city, sections of the levee were being overtopped Thursday, and part of a residential area was sitting in water. Water had risen up to the doors of houses in the evacuation area in the center of the city and had submerged some cars as well. As news of the new evacuations spread on Thursday, residents and business scrambled to figure out what’s next.

The first time rising waters forced a quarter of the residents here to abandon their homes several weeks ago, many of them simply hauled their possessions up to their second floors to keep them dry. But as the river that divides downtown began rising to record levels this week, those same homeowners confronted a sobering realization: the second floor might not be high enough.

In this summer of unrelenting flooding across the Midwest, with record flows along giants like the Mississippi and the Missouri Rivers, one of the most striking scenes of unfolding destruction is occurring here on the banks of the diminutive Souris River — known as “The Mouse,” after its French name.

This city is bracing for a powerful surge of water predicted to break records by as much as five feet. As sirens blared, more than 11,000 residents evacuated their homes on Wednesday for the second time in a month, this time with the grim assurance from local leaders that the river would overtop levees in a matter of hours and swamp a huge section of the city for weeks. And, right on schedule, the fast-moving water started pouring over defenses that had kept the city dry for more than six decades.

Residents worked desperately at first to clear all they could from homes, trying to contain their emotions as they made difficult choices and calculated gambles about what to leave behind. A month ago, Harrietta Summers, a first-grade teacher, moved all her possessions up to the second floor of her longtime home along the river. This time, she emptied her cabinets and her closets, figuring that the water would keep rising.

“It’s going to hit the roof,” Ms. Summers said with forced cheer, her smile finally giving way to tears.

Down the street, Bobbi Linrud helped pack up the childhood home where she had taken a boat to fetch her prom dress during a flood 40 years ago that destroyed much of the city. Ms. Linrud hoped that the water would not climb to the once-implausible level of the second story, where many of her mother’s possessions were still stacked from the first evacuation.

During a break, she put up a sign by the front door announcing a beach party. “If we’re leaving, we’ll leave with a smile, and we’re not leaving till the whistle blows and they say get out,” she said.

The siren came soon enough, a few minutes before 1 p.m., sending Ms. Linrud and others racing for higher ground.

The water, already higher than that of the devastating flood of 1969, which prompted the construction of current river defenses, was expected to continue rising through the weekend, shattering the 130-year-old record. The river, which is controlled by dams, has also forced evacuations in a number of small communities.

The flood promised to deliver a brutal blow to a city, the fourth-largest in North Dakota, that has enjoyed years of remarkable growth and prosperity. Its success driven by a regional oil boom and a healthy agricultural industry, Minot (pronounced MY-not) has mirrored the general prosperity of a state that had been a rare bright spot in these difficult financial years, with a growing economy and the lowest unemployment rate in the nation.

Timothy Williams contributed reporting from New York.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: June 22, 2011

Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article misstated how long ago the flood record was set in Minot, N.D.; it was 130 years ago, not 230.

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