June 24, 2011 / 8:09 PM / 6 years ago

North Dakota flood refugees worry about their future

<p>Associate Professor of English Robert Kibler relaxes in his office at Minot State University in Minot, North Dakota as flood water spills over levees and dikes in Minot June 24, 2011. REUTERS/Allen Fredrickson</p>

MINOT, North Dakota (Reuters) - School may be out for summer but Associate Professor Robert Kibler remains at Minot State University -- and not because he is teaching a summer school class.

Kibler is one of thousands of Minot, North Dakota-area residents forced from their homes in the past 48 hours because of rapidly rising floodwaters. The normally tranquil Souris, or Mouse, River spilled over its banks and eclipsed a 130-year-old flood record on Friday.

His home for now: a cot in the college’s sports venue that has been turned into a Red Cross shelter to serve 400 of up to 12,000 residents forced from their homes.

“It’s like basic training,” said Kibler, a Washington, D.C. native who moved to the Minot area 12 years ago to teach English. “It treats everyone the same.”

Kibler, 55, was forced out of his house in Burlington, northwest of Minot, for a second time in a month. His wife is in a South Dakota hotel -- the closest lodging she could find.

Residents thought they had dodged a catastrophe weeks ago when the swelling river stayed within flood barriers.

But more heavy rains in Canada sent a massive wall of water south. U.S. officials were forced to release water at record rates from Lake Darling Dam above Minot, overwhelming the flood defenses and forcing an evacuation on two days notice.

It is no surprise in this friendly Midwestern community that family, neighbors and even strangers pitched in to help move furniture and store it as flood refugees scrambled to move their belongings before the water arrived.

“We brought 90 pallets of sandbags to our house and when I went outside there were 50 neighbors there,” Kibler said. “They were all there to help us even though I had never even seen some of them before.”

<p>Savannah Schafer (L) helps her mom Lani Schafer (R) stack pallets used for sandbagging after sandbagging a relative's property about four blocks west of the Souris River, as floodwater overtops earthen dikes in Minot, North Dakota June 23, 2011. REUTERS/Allen Fredrickson</p>

Mark and Deanne Clemens, who left a home near the center of Minot, were staying elsewhere in the city with their daughter, two grandchildren, four dogs and a cat, he said.

“When those sirens went, that was tough,” Mark Clemens said of the evacuation warning siren on Wednesday.

“You looked around your neighborhood and you go, ‘I don’t know if I am going to be back here. Good grief I‘m 60, what am I going to do?'” he said. “It is a gut-wrenching feeling.”

Mark Clemens said they were just getting ready to do some household projects when the new evacuation order came. Now their belongings are scattered at places around the city.

The Clemens’ posted a message on Facebook and got plenty of help to move furniture and appliances from their home, Deanne Clemens said. Her Facebook posting looking for storage space also met an immediate response.

A woman from a nearby town, who was eight months pregnant, responded to the notice and loaded her suburban for a trip, while friends and friends-of-friends helped move furniture.

“I took pictures of the house before we left because I didn’t know if I would ever see it again,” Deanne Clemens said.

By Friday morning, all but one home in Kibler’s Burlington neighborhood were underwater. He does not know what will become of the crops he grows for a local farmer’s market including garlic, asparagus, corn, beans. He also doesn’t know what would happen to the bees he keeps.

“But I‘m not leaving. I live here. I teach here,” Kibler said.

Additional reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis

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