Gov. Doug Burgum declared a statewide flood emergency in preparation for the threat of significant spring flooding across North Dakota, as state agencies gathered to begin coordinating their response and resources. The governor also toured flood-affected areas in western McKenzie County, hearing heartbreaking stories from residents displaced by the flooding Yellowstone River.
In an executive order declaring the emergency, Burgum cited flood outlooks from the National Weather Service indicating the potential for significant river, tributary and overland flooding in the Red River and Devils Lake basins, and high water in the southern James River basin.
The combination of deep frost depth and above-normal moisture from snow and fall rains have increased the risk of flooding because saturated and frozen soils won’t be able to absorb snowmelt, compounding the risk of runoff, the order states. “All signs point to a high potential for significant floods that could overwhelm local response capabilities across the state, and the devastating flooding we saw today along the Yellowstone River shows just how quickly these situations can arise,” Burgum said. “This emergency declaration is an essential step in making sure that state personnel and equipment are available and ready to respond when significant flooding threatens the safety of people and property, and toward pursuing a federal disaster declaration that could bring additional assistance to local residents and political subdivisions.”
More than 50 homes have taken on water and 110 residents have been displaced by flooding near the North Dakota-Montana border, where lengthy ice jams have backed up the Yellowstone River. A submerged section of Highway 200 between Cartwright, N.D., and Fairview, Mont., remained closed Wednesday.
During a meeting with displaced residents at the Fairview Fire Hall, homeowners described the devastation to their property and disruption to their lives caused by the unexpected flooding.
Jack and Jackie Damm, who live one mile south of Highway 200 and one mile west of the river, said their farmstead, which hasn’t experienced flooding in the 70 years it’s been in their family, is now under 4 to 5 feet of water, and like many families in the area they don’t have flood insurance.
“We’ve never flooded before,” Jack Damm said. “It came up so quick. We had about three hours to get out what we could.”
Among those joining Burgum on a tour of inundated areas were the state’s adjutant general, North Dakota National Guard Maj. Gen. Alan Dohrmann; District 39 state Sen. Dale Patten and Rep. Keith Kempenich; McKenzie County Commission Chairman Tom Mc- Cabe; and County Emergency Manager Karolin Jappe.
Burgum has activated the North Dakota State Emergency Operations Plan and directed all state agencies, including the North Dakota National Guard, to maintain high readiness levels with flood response resources.
The State Flood Unified Command held its first meeting with staff from several state agencies on Wednesday, discussing current hydrological conditions, weather forecasts, agency preparations, resource coordination and anticipated flooding in the coming weeks.
The executive order also grants emergency relief by waiving load restrictions and spring road restrictions for vehicles necessary for levee construction and other flood fight efforts in affected areas, at the discretion of the North Dakota Department of Transportation director.