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Evacuation rescinded for Hebron; Dunn County asks for help spotting washed out roads

The Little Knife River begins to recede Friday near Jerry "Bozo" Schneider's home on the east side of Hebron.1 / 3
Jerry "Bozo" Schneider, left, stands near a bridge next to his home on the east side of Hebron as he describes how the Little Knife River floods. With him are his wife, Donna Schneider, and his granddaughter, Mikayla Schneider.2 / 3
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HEBRON -- The Morton County town known as "Brick City" watched the Little Knife River closely Friday afternoon after the typically slow, small waterway that meanders through the south side of town swelled as a result of continuous rain in recent days.

City officials called for a voluntary evacuation of all residents south of Main Avenue early Friday afternoon after water from river rose to near flood levels before receding at about 5 p.m. CDT, causing the evacuation to be rescinded.

The community of about 750 residents was one of a handful of western and central North Dakota counties that battled flood waters Friday and urged the public to be cautious of rising water.

"The water was in my yard earlier," Hebron resident Jerry Schneider, known around town as Bozo, said from his driveway on Elm Street, just feet from the banks of the swiftly moving river. "We had four snowmobiles in the garage, but we loaded them up and took them to my daughter's place on the other side of town."

At 5:30 p.m. Friday, Schneider said he estimated the river had receded close to a foot from its crest earlier in the afternoon. Hebron Emergency Manager Ryan Wiege said the river was 12- to 14-feet deep before it crested at midday Friday.

Across town at the Brick City Bar & Grill, Gladys Lembke said the river was as high as she could remember since she moved to Hebron in 1982.

Several longtime city residents, including Hebron Mayor Grant Walth, said the Little Knife was as high as they could remember it being since a similar flood in the town in 1970 and 1976.

"There's been a rain or two over the years where it came up fairly, too," said Tom Conlon, who has been in his home on the south side of the Little Knife River in Hebron for 32 years. "If we get a lot of rain west of town, it comes up quick. Where the river drains out of town, it gets to an area where it's sort of flat and fans out. If it were to build up, it would back into town and be a problem, but I'm not too worried right now."

Lembke and about 20 other patrons who were fixated on a TV tuned into a local newscast that led with live coverage of the Hebron flood.

"I'm on the north side of town, so I'm going to be fine," Lembke said. "We moved the pickup and moved the camper and that's about it."

Hebron City Hall was temporarily turned into a shelter for residents of 200-plus homes in the evacuation area due to flooding concerns. Residents said if the river would have risen a few more feet, Elk Street -- one of the city's main north-south roads -- would have been under water.

However, citizens by and large did not seem concerned enough to leave their homes.

Surveying the scene from the Elk Street bridge early Friday evening, Morton County Sheriff Dave Shipman said the fact that the river level was quickly dropping from its crest was encouraging.

"I wouldn't say we're out of the woods yet," Shipman said. "The river level has dropped, but it's all going to depend on how much more rain we get. In a small town like this, word gets out fast and it looks like the entire town came together. That's good to see."

Some areas of west-central North Dakota received up to 4 inches of precipitation late this week. Portions of Dunn and Stark counties tallied up to 4 inches of rain with Dickinson receiving 2.37 inches Thursday and Friday alone, according to the National Weather Service in Bismarck.

Tom Doering, Morton County Emergency Manager, said he was first alerted by a city employee of the flooding issues around 10:45 a.m. Friday.

"He said the Little Knife River was coming up quickly," Doering said. "Then shortly after that, we requested sandbags to be sent down and the state has provided us with a sandbag machine, which we have in use right now."

The water was about 5 feet away from homes on Elm Street in Hebron, Doering said, and Walth called for the evacuation of homes on the south side of Main Avenue.

In Dunn County, the sheriff's department and Emergency Manager Denise Brew were asking the public to be cautious on the roads.

"We have numerous roads that have been closed, and we have many roads that are dangerously close to being under water, so we ask that you please turn around and do not attempt to drive where there is water over the roadway," Brew said.

Dunn County Emergency Management asks people who spot areas of flooding concern to call 701-573-4612 and report it.

"The problem we're having now is that the water is backing up on the east side of the river," he said. "This is only my third week on the job, but I would say this is unusual for southwest North Dakota, unless we get a lot of rain like we have."

Press Managing Editor Dustin Monke contributed to this story.

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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