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Souris River begins a slow retreat from Minot, North Dakota

The Souris River began retreating from Minot, N.D. on Sunday with no further flood damage in the city. But officials warn that danger would remain for several days until the highest water passed.

By Dale Wetzel and John FlesherAssociated Press / June 26, 2011

Michael Haugen and his wife Janice, evacuated from their home flooded by the Souris River, pray with their daughter Leslie Berge during a church service for three Lutheran congregations held at The Vegas Hotel Sunday in Minot, N.D.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

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Minot, N.D.

The Souris River began a slow retreat from Minot on Sunday with no further flood damage in the city, but officials warned danger would remain for several days until the highest water passed.

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"We're still at full alert until the water starts going down," said Shannon Bauer, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "It's still a war."

The city's levees were reinforced with plastic sheeting to help them withstand the sustained exposure to high water. Forecasts called for the Souris to fall nearly 2 feet by Wednesday.

More than 4,000 homes and hundreds of businesses flooded when the Souris flowed over levees Friday. Bauer said crews had dealt only with isolated problems since then, including a leaky dike that was reinforced Saturday night.

About a fourth of Minot's 40,000 residents were evacuated early last week in anticipation of flooding. Smaller cities along the Souris also warned their residents to leave. The Corps was sandbagging in Sawyer and Velva, two small downstream towns of just a few hundred people, that face crests later this week.

On Sunday, North Dakota National Guard soldiers were monitoring a submerged pedestrian bridge in Minot to make sure it didn't break off in the river channel. The bridge has been trapping debris and could harm nearby levees. Guard commander David Sprynczynatyk said soldiers were ready to pull it out if it came loose.

Problems at Minot's water treatment plant prompted the state Department of Health to issue a boil order Saturday for users of city water. The order also applies to the Minot Air Force Base, about 13 miles north of town, which gets its drinking water from Minot's municipal system.

Once the Souris recedes, Minot will begin tackling the job of rebuilding.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved Burleigh and Ward counties, which have some of the state's most extensive flooding damage, for individual assistance aid. Gov. Jack Dalrymple is pushing for the initiative to be expanded to 20 other counties and the Turtle Mountain Chippewa and Spirit Lake Sioux reservations.

FEMA and the federal Small Business Administration have loan and grant programs for some businesses and individuals, although officials caution they do not make up a disaster victim's entire financial loss.

Another potential source of aid is the North Dakota Legislature, which is likely to consider flood-relief measures during a special session this fall, and the state-owned Bank of North Dakota, which already has a low-interest disaster relief loan program to help businesses, farmers and ranchers.

The state has a $386 million "rainy day" fund and $136 million in school aid reserves that could be used for disaster relief if lawmakers agree.

Les Younger, 65, a retired Air Force veteran who maintained aircraft weapons systems at the Minot Air Force Base, and his wife, Jacque, 64, a seamstress, said they did not buy flood insurance because they thought their home near a middle school and Minot State University was far enough away from the river.

Jacque Younger said the couple's recovery "is going to be very tough, because we don't have a lot of savings." But they tried to put the best face on it by thinking of how they might change things in rebuilding.

"You have to look on the bright side, because if you look on the dull side, it gets you down," Jacque Younger said.