By Geoff Davidian
MINOT, North Dakota (Reuters) - The world seemed to disappear before the eyes of U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Theron Griffin, who stood guard on Saturday as the swelling brown waters of the Souris River consumed this North Dakota city.
Griffin was alone for most of the 14 hours he acted as a sentinel to the town of Minot, where about 12,000 residents have evacuated and officials are fighting to stem the record-breaking crest of river water that has submerged thousands of homes.
"See those rapids, those white waves?" Griffin said, pointing to water that almost swallowed a stop sign. "Those weren't there 14 hours ago."
Griffin explained how teams of local and federal authorities piled dirt, sand and clay along the river banks for five days in an attempt to thwart the city's inundation.
"The dikes on the north side of Third Street have pretty much failed," he said. "The small berms have failed."
Floodwaters swallowed more than 3,000 Minot-area homes, including that of Cassandra Martin who moved to Minot in February with her husband, Brandon, and Mea, their 16-month-old daughter.
The couple fled their home on official orders and were staying at a downtown Red Cross shelter.
"We're renting a home just two blocks from here, and we snuck down there last night when the National Guard stepped away to survey the damage," said Martin, who is pregnant with their second child.
The water was 4-feet deep on the first floor and the basement, some 12-feet deep, was completely flooded, she said.
More evacuees are expected from the towns of Turtle Lake, Velva, and Sawyer, among others, according to Allan McGeough, executive director of the mid-Dakota chapter of the Red Cross.
In Sawyer, about 16 miles southeast of Minot, 400 residents were told to evacuate after river water rushed through a downtown roadway, and as many as 300 people in Velva will require shelter, authorities said.
The Souris River was expected to crest early on Sunday. By Saturday evening, it was at least 3.5 feet above the 130-year-old record it shattered on Friday.
It is expected to crest by Sunday morning at 3.8 feet above that record, according to the National Weather Service.
(Writing by Eric Johnson; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst)