By David Bailey
MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - The city of Minot, North Dakota, on Friday said it would allow the first residents back into the edges of areas evacuated in June because of massive flooding along the Souris River.
"Residents from the outer fringe areas in the northwest evacuation zones that have no river water on their lawns will be allowed back to their homes effective immediately," the city said in a statement.
About 12,000 residents, or more than a quarter of the state's fourth largest city, were displaced when Minot ordered a mandatory evacuation on June 22 after floodwaters from the Souris River began to run over the top of its barriers.
A survey on Friday found some gains of territory on the fringes of the flooded neighborhoods with floodwaters on a slow decline, Minot Fire Department Captain Dean Lenertz said. All of the houses they could walk up to had flooded basements.
"It is going to be some time yet before many people get back in," Lenertz, who is serving as city spokesman, said in a telephone interview.
Heavy rains across the western half of the Souris River Basin in June, coupled with melting snow overwhelmed reservoirs in Canada. In turn, U.S. officials were forced to release massive amounts of water from Lake Darling Dam above Minot.
Minot's flood defenses were quickly swamped and a 130-year-old crest record eclipsed. The Souris, or Mouse, River beat the 1881 record by nearly 4 feet when it crested last weekend and has receded more than two feet since then.
Local, state and federal authorities were working on setting up temporary housing for the displaced residents, many of whom were staying with friends, neighbors or relatives. A few hundred have stayed at shelters, others have camped.
A preliminary federal survey found that three-quarters of the more than 4,100 structures flooded had extensive or total damage. Only about 375 were covered by flood insurance.
Water was projected at more than 10 feet deep in 805 buildings in the survey taken in late June about the time the river crested, indicating a total loss. Water was 6- to 10-feet deep in another 2,376 buildings indicating extensive damage.
(Reporting by David Bailey and Greg McCune)