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Minot, area towns focus on recovery

MINOT --As the Souris River slowly recedes after devastating this city with floodwaters, officials are focusing more on recovery efforts and the future.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple announced Tuesday that Maj. Gen. Murray Sagsveen will coordinate statewide flood recovery efforts and begin immediately. Sagsveen directed Grand Forks' 1997 flood recovery and has worked for the state in various roles in the past.

He will work with local, state and federal officials to help communities recover from flooding and help flood-impacted communities develop improved flood protection measures.

"His experience is going to be invaluable as we sort out the tremendous organization that needs to take place," Dalrymple said.

Sagsveen said he's looking forward to working as long as it takes. He assisted Grand Forks from April 1997 to January 1998 and continued to work with the city for another year or two, he said.

"This is not a short-term issue," Sagsveen said of recovery. "This is going to be a long-term effort with the planning effort and the implementation effort."

In the end, Grand Forks is now a "far more beautiful, more vibrant city than it was before," he said.

"I'm very hopeful that, coming out of this, Minot will be even more robust than it is right now. I'm confident of that," Sagsveen said.

Grand Forks City Engineer Al Grasser, who was not in Minot on Tuesday, also said Sagsveen's experience will be a big help to Minot.

In the short term, Willie Nunn of FEMA said the agency will work with the city and state on a plan for temporary housing. There aren't numbers yet of how many homes will be deemed uninhabitable, but "the destruction is just unbelievable down in the valley," Zimbelman said.

The Souris River crested at a record level on Sunday after more than 11,000 residents -- one-fourth of the city --evacuated their homes in the state's fourth-largest city.

The river had dropped more than a foot by late Tuesday afternoon to 1560.4 feet, but still remains above record stage of 1558 feet.

Smaller cities near Minot received positive news on Tuesday. Velva businesses may be able to move back by Thursday and residents by Friday.

The city was not flooded, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers feels strongly the dikes are holding and erosion has been controlled, Velva spokeswoman Maria Effertz Hanson said in a statement.

Burlington Mayor Jerome Gruenberg said water levels dropped about 18 inches there, and the city is working to get residents back to their homes as soon as possible.

Early in the day, rumors swirled that President Barack Obama would head to North Dakota after a trip to Iowa. On Monday, Dalrymple invited the president to see the flood devastation in the state.

However, the president did not stop in North Dakota and is scheduled to be in Washington, D.C., today to discuss the debt ceiling with Senate Democratic leaders.

On Tuesday, the state's federal delegation and Dalrymple sent a letter to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate.

They called on the officials to review North Dakota's request for FEMA's individual assistance. Burleigh and Ward counties received approval thus far, but state officials want more counties included.

Hoeven said he talked to Napolitano, who sent FEMA's deputy director to reevaluate Morton, McHenry and Renville counties. They are also still evaluating the Devils Lake area, Hoeven said.

He invited her to come to North Dakota, which she may do later, he said.

To boost spirits, an expanded Fourth of July celebration is planned in Minot this year.

The "fun in the flood edition" will take place at Scandinavian Heritage Park, said Wendy Howe, executive director of the Minot Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The event will include food, prizes, face painting, clowns, a bouncy castle and live music, she said. The evening will end with fireworks.

"The goal of it is really to try to give Minot a little bit of a celebration during this really tough time," Howe said. "Everybody, I think, needs a little pick me up. It's a chance to bring the community together and have a little fun for a day."

Howe, who is among the city's flood evacuees, estimates there is 5 feet of water on the main floor of her house.

"Things like this (Fourth of July event) are really a great way to take your mind off of your own home and think about the community more," she said. "This is a great way to think about the positive instead of the negative."

Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.