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Shelters little-used as friends, family and strangers take in evacuees

Waters rush out of Lake Darling on Friday.

MINOT -- Although temporary shelters were opened this week at the Minot Auditorium and Minot State University, many residents had already opened their homes and their hearts to those devastated by the historic flood.

About 12,000 people were forced to leave their homes due to the flooding of the Souris River, yet only about 220 have taken refuge in the shelters.

"Family and friends, that is what has made the difference," U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad said at a news conference Friday afternoon. "You've got to salute the people of this community."

Many Minot residents were willing to house complete strangers. Many of the 750 National Guardsmen in town were staying at the homes of residents high on the hills. Posted at the auditorium was a note offering two beds and a crib to anyone who needed a place to stay.

Most campgrounds in the area were inundated by 6 or more feet of floodwaters, causing makeshift camps full of RVs and packed vehicles to pop up in places such as the parking lots of Wal-Mart and Jim Hill Middle School.

Dawn Rasmussen, a Realtor with Century 21 of Minot, had just moved into her restored home eight months ago. She and her husband were forced to evacuate on Wednesday.

"You have someone telling you, 'You have 10 minutes to leave your home.' That is the hardest part," Rasmussen said. "People were there to help right away; neighbors, family ... we got all packed up and I got in my car and I looked around. We were all in our cars ready to leave and it was just silence. I think we were all in shock."

By Thursday evening, Rasmussen and her family were at the middle school parking lot with their RV and two small dogs, getting to know their new neighbors, the Colbenson family.

"Minot is awesome. Friends and family just came out of the wood work offering to help," Peder Colbenson said.

His wife, Kim, said waiting (for the crest) was harder than the displacement.

Blocks away, 87-year-old Dona Young said she was having the time of her life at the Minot Auditorium shelter.

"I'm doing fine. I'm living in luxury here," she said as she sat on her single cot among the rows of beds and belongings of other evacuees. The lifelong Minot resident was told another temporary home could be found for her, but Young wanted to stay.

"(Minot residents) all believe. They believe in each other and they believe in themselves and when it comes to a disaster they work," Young said.

Inside the auditorium, some people walked around restlessly, anxious for the river's rise to stop after reaching historic levels Friday. Others slept in the rows of beds. Local stores donated televisions to monitor the flood and some residents sent hand-made blankets.

Along the northwest wall of the auditorium, Chris Rivers was trying to assemble a stroller Wal-Mart donated to him and his wife, April Moses for their 2-week-old son Alex. The Rivers family, which also included daughter Dannika, was evacuated when the river first rose on June 1 and stayed at the shelter then. They were able to return to their home in evacuation zone six just days before April gave birth. They returned to the shelter on Tuesday.

Most of the hotels and campgrounds in the Minot area were already full of Oil Patch workers who were unable to find housing in the Williston area. Rasmussen said the city's housing market was already saturated with oil workers and their families looking for permanent housing long before the flood.

The Rivers family moved to Minot from Oregon for work eight months ago. Moses said the family was doing fine in the shelter, but what where they would find housing next would be a problem.

"The shelter is fine. Finding somewhere to live after all this is going to be pretty difficult," she said.

Reuer is a reporter at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.