Emergency evacuation sirens have sounded in the North Dakota city of Minot as water from the Souris River begins pouring over some dikes.

About 12,000 Minot residents — a quarter of the city's residents — have been facing a 6 p.m. CT deadline to leave their homes as the river moves closer to swamping the city with the worst flooding it has seen in four decades. 

'The water is rising fast, and people need to get evacuated as soon as possible.'—Minot Mayor Curt Zimbelman

That deadline was moved up to 1 p.m. just prior to noon as members of the National Guard began going door-to-door urging residents to get out.

"Public safety is paramount," said Mayor Curt Zimbelman. "The water is rising fast, and people need to get evacuated as soon as possible."

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The Souris River starts in Saskatchewan then meanders through North Dakota before heading north into Manitoba and joining the Assiniboine River at Treesbank.

Truck after truck heaped with belongings were seen leaving neighbourhoods Wednesday morning and people were giving away furniture, putting it out on the curb saying they've got no room to take it with them.

The Souris River has been bloated by heavy spring snowmelt and rain on both sides of the border and will top Minot's levees within two days, officials have said.

The Souris River loops down from Saskatchewan through north central North Dakota then returns north into Manitoba, passing through the communities of Melita, Hartney, Souris and Wawanesa before joining the Assiniboine River at Treesbank.

Communities across southeastern Saskatchewan are dealing with flooded homes, businesses and crumbling roads following all of the rainfall.

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Homeowners put up a white flag in a pile of belongings left at the curb in the Minot evacuation zone. ((Brady Strachan/CBC))

And people in Manitoba are closely watching what happens in Minot. The level of the river in towns like Souris has been dropping and municipal officials hope there will be enough room along their dikes for the water that will come their way in a couple of weeks.

Souris Mayor Darryl Jackson has been told the two-metre increase in the river level in Minot will translate to a 1.2-metre increase in Souris.

"The river here since last Friday has dropped over two feet [0.6 metres] … in five or six, five days I guess, so yes, it's definitely on the right trend for us right now," he said.

However, heavy rain could change the situation very quickly, Jackson added.

In Minot, the river is expected to dwarf the major flood of 1969. That's when the Souris reached 474 metres above sea level. It's expected to hit nearly 476 metres this this time around, surpassing even the historical record level of 475 metres, set in 1881.

The water was already started gushing out on to some streets through manholes on Wednesday.

The 1969 flood prompted the Army Corps of Engineers to build a dike system that has been beefed up several times this spring.

But those levees are unable to handle flows from Saskatchewan of approximately 28,000 cubic feet per second.

Protecting critical infrastructure

Zimbelman said officials in Minot are focusing efforts on building dikes to protect critical infrastructure such as the sewer system, water plants, schools and city hall. The city also is working on plans to put up secondary dikes outside fringe areas.

"Once we have the critical sites secured, we'll start on these other areas trying to protect as many homes and businesses as possible," he said. "We will continue until the water pushes us out of the area."

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Marshal Platz, left, and Chad Love help relatives move furniture out of the relatives' Minot, N.D., home on Tuesday. ((Teri Finneman/The Forum/Associated Press))

Officials at Minot International Airport, which sits on a hill on the north part of town, issued a statement Tuesday saying the airport will remain fully operational.

Similar efforts are being made to protect infrastructure in the nearby town of Burlington, where about 1,200 people live. Gov. Jack Dalrymple said Tuesday afternoon that residents in Burlington evacuation zones need to be out by noon Wednesday.

Ward County residents living along the river must evacuate by 6 p.m., he said.

About 10,000 Minot residents were evacuated from the town earlier this month before the river hit 473.6 metres. They were later let back into their homes, but were cautioned to be ready to leave again quickly.

North Dakota National Guard commander Dave Sprynczynatyk said the latest evacuation order affects about 11,000 people in 4,200 homes.

Ann Hoggarth, who lives right next to the river, said she feels numb and very emotional. She is struggling to move some of her belongings to higher ground.

"I've got three storeys so I'm hoping the furniture will be OK upstairs, but I'm a single mom and I had to ship my kids off to their dad, so I don't have anyone to help me," she said.


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With files from CBC News