June in Minot will always stir up a meandering mix of emotions for our community’s residents who lived here in 2011, but especially for those who called the river valley their home.
What’s the river level today? How much water is on the way? How will I save a lifetime of possessions? How will I rebuild? Should I stay in Minot? These remain relevant questions and difficult memories for many who lived in the flood zone in 2011.
But there are other reflections etched into the collective mind and soul of our community, too. Neighbors and strangers working hand-in-hand to move the contents of someone’s home to safety, then heading off with a quick wave to help the next person in need. Residents quickly getting to work cleaning and rebuilding their homes, businesses, and lives. A river valley littered with lifetimes of debris, but also full of bright yellow “I’ll Be Back” and “I’m Back” signs in defiance of the river’s failed attempt to conquer our city.
For those who lived through the 2011 Souris River flood, the emotions rarely, if ever, leave you. For some, there are reminders everywhere; an empty lot where a neighbor’s home once stood; a small sign on a utility pole marking the water level in 2011; seeing a friend or neighbor who came to your assistance; perhaps your own basement that remains unfinished. It all brings back memories and emotions. It likely always will.
As we remember the events of 2011 again this year, it’s hard to believe that nine years have passed, to think that it’s been almost a decade since dikes were breached, streets were flooded, and thousands of lives were forever changed. Other days, the events of 2011 seem like they happened only yesterday, with the unwelcome details still all-too-fresh in our minds. Who can forget the musty smell that permeated the valley for months after the water receded?
I suspect I’m like most other residents whose homes or businesses were damaged or destroyed by the raging waters of the Souris. I can still vividly hear the siren piercing the eeriness of the river valley, starkly announcing to residents that it was time to evacuate, that the battle had been lost. We were leaving home, not knowing when we would return, or what we would return to.
Yet, even as we left parts of ourselves behind that day in June 2011, there was always an unmistakable and palpable sense in Minot that we would be back. It’s hard to explain, but it was a feeling of North Dakota resistance. The Souris River may have won that day’s battle, but we would ultimately win by rebuilding our homes, our lives, and our community. And we’re doing that.
Nine years later, our city looks much different physically than it did in 2011. Regrettably, some neighborhoods have disappeared as residents relocated to safer areas of Minot. We know moving people and structures out of harm’s way is ultimately necessary. It’s often an emotionally difficult process that must continue to be undertaken with empathy, thoughtfulness, and purpose.
When you look around our city today, the evidence of progress to protect ourselves from the river’s wrath is visible and real. We’ve made significant progress on removing zombie homes in the city; there are only 13 of those structures left, and we’ll continue to address the issue until all of them are gone. We know many of those now-empty lots will be home to various components of a flood protection system that is the largest infrastructure project in Minot’s history. Flood walls will stand watch along the river banks. Existing dikes have been repaired and improved, and new ones are being constructed. Storm water pump stations are being built and other infrastructure has been upgraded with flood control in mind. You can’t always beat Mother Nature, but we intend to give her one heck of a fight if necessary.
We have endured one of the worst disasters Mother Nature could throw at us. We will, of course, never forget the river’s unfeeling attempt to destroy our community, but we will always remind ourselves that during that summer of destruction, we also witnessed some of the greatest moments in Minot’s history. A community standing together, unified in its resolve to come back better and stronger than ever before. That is what keeps us moving forward.
Sincerely, City Hall.
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