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Image: Evangelical Lutheran ministers Mike Johnson, left, and Kari and Mike Pancoast
Charles Rex Arbogast  /  AP
Evangelical Lutheran ministers Mike Johnson, left, and Kari and Mike Pancoast, evacuated from the the Souris River flood zone, talk about the help they have received and given in fighting the flood on Saturday,
updated 6/26/2011 4:35:41 AM ET 2011-06-26T08:35:41

Chased from their homes by rising floodwaters and bunking with friends, clergymen Mike Johnson and Mike Pancoast did what seems to come naturally to folks around here: They hopped into a car and headed for a nearby town to help others evacuate.

"There are people who need help and they need it now and we're able to do it, so let's go," Johnson said Saturday before hitting the road for the North Dakota town of Velva, about 20 miles downstream from Minot, where the Souris River was nearing its peak after swamping an estimated 4,000 homes. The National Weather Service predicted the river's crest later in the weekend would be more than 2 feet lower than earlier projected, welcome news in the battered community.

Story: Souris River nears peak at Minot; city hopes worst over

Johnson, associate pastor of Christ Lutheran Church, was uncertain about the fate of his own apartment building, although his belongings were safely in the hands of parishioners and friends in town. Fellow Lutherans from Stanley, an hour's drive west, took charge of his office equipment and files.

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"They just showed up on Tuesday and carted stuff off for us," he said.

PhotoBlog: View, discuss weather photos

Similar stories of people helping each other, often without being asked and demanding nothing in return, were a heartwarming counterpoint to the destruction from unprecedented flooding along the Souris valley in north-central North Dakota. Brought together by word of mouth, church and civic networks, social media and random encounters, those with housing and supplies to spare gave willingly to those without.

'That's how we are'
So many opened their doors that while some 11,000 people were evacuated from neighborhoods nearest the river, only a few hundred used shelters at Minot State University and the City Auditorium.

"For the rest of the country, that is kind of mind-boggling. But ... that's how we are in North Dakota," Sen. John Hoeven said.

A Facebook page called "Minot ND Flood Help" drew volunteer offers to haul furniture, care for pets, clean laundry and even give therapeutic massages — many from outside town.

Get updates on the floods on breakingnews.com

Patrica Eide of Tioga, about 85 miles west, posted an offer to loan her 30-foot camper to a displaced family. It quickly drew a taker: a man with a wife and three children who were living in their van since being evacuated.

"We could probably rent that thing for $500 a month, but I told my husband there's no way I'm going to be greedy," Eide, 62, said by phone. "God just had better plans for our camper than renting it."

She was preparing to haul it to Minot with a load of canned tomatoes and green beans, a grill, propane and other supplies. "I think we've got 'em covered," she said.

Mike Pancoast and his wife Kari, both associate pastors at First Lutheran Church, were staying with Minot State campus pastor Kari Williamson after the rising river threatened their church and adjacent brick parsonage. Like Johnson, they didn't know how high the waters would rise, but were confident enough to move most of their clothes and other belongings to higher floors instead of removing them. Their four children were staying with her parents in Minnesota.

"We've kept it together pretty well, although it's not to say we're a solid rock through this," Mike Pancoast said, sipping coffee at the kitchen table of Williamson's ranch-style house. "It's one thing to go and visit somebody and stay in their house and enjoy their hospitality for a couple of days. It's another thing to move in indefinitely and wonder have we overstayed our welcome?"

Johnson was staying with parishioners David and Laurie Weber. Their teenage sons, Preston and Dylan, accompanied him to Velva after spending Thursday on their bikes, going door-to-door to help evacuees move furniture.

A common sight was garages packed with televisions, books, clothing and other items as residents turned their homes into temporary storage units for flood victims. Williamson was keeping things for students at Minot State.

Video: As floodwaters rise, scope of devastation widens

'Wanted to do my part'
Across the street, a trailer stuffed with household belongings stood in Derek Cumbie's driveway. His garage was a veritable warehouse after several friends dropped off their things.

Two were staying with Cumbie, 26, a captain at Minot Air Force Base.

"I've been really impressed with how people in this community are helping each other, so I wanted to do my part," he said.

On Friday, the river had been expected to peak at about 9 feet above major flood stage, but it leveled off and was only rising by tiny amounts Saturday. The National Weather Service dropped the projection by just more than 2 feet as upstream flows weakened.

City officials applauded when Minot Mayor Curt Zimbelman announced the peak forecast at a news conference. He warned the sustained high water flows were likely to last for three to four days, enough to put significant strain on the city's newly built earthen levees.

"You've got that deterioration on the dikes. If you see how fast that water is moving, it's scary," Zimbelman said. "We're concerned that we can hold it, and it's critical that we keep a vigilant eye on this."

Minot's Broadway Street bridge over the Souris, which is its most important connection between the north and south sections of the city, is likely to remain closed until the crest recedes, the mayor said.

Story: Above the Missouri River, only treetops and rooftops

Problems at Minot's water treatment plant prompted the state Department of Health to issue a "boil order" on Saturday for users of city water. It also applies to the Minot Air Force Base, about 13 miles north of town, which gets its drinking water from Minot's municipal system.

Alan Walter, Minot's public works director, said water plant workers discovered that untreated water had gotten into the city system, and he believe the problem would be remedied in one or two days.

Zimbelman said city officials were "not completely sure at this point" that Minot's water supply had been contaminated.

"It has not been fully tested ... to show that it is contaminated," Zimbelman said. "There is just a concern at this point, so we're taking precautions."

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: '500-year' flood waters still rising

Photos: Minot, N.D.

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  1. Floodwater from the Souris River surrounds the Ramstad Jr. High School in Minot on Monday, June 27. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. This June 25 satellite image provided by GeoEye shows flooding due to the cresting of the Souris River in Minot. Mayor Curt Zimbelman says demolition might be the only solution for nearly one-fifth of the homes in the city that have been damaged by Souris River flooding. (GeoEye / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Floodwater from the Souris River surrounds homes on the right, as others sit dry in Minot, N.D., on Monday, June 27. Just 375 of the 4,000 homes in flooded areas were insured for floods, FEMA spokesman John Ashton said. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Gordon Valgren, right, cleans debris from his flood-damaged home as his neighbor Clayton Rostad watches in Minot on June 27. Residents who live on the edge of the flood zone began to clean the water damage from their homes on Monday. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Floodwater pumped out of the basement of a Minot State University building is emptied across a levee into University Ave. in Minot on June 27. As the river hit its record-shattering peak and began a slow retreat, residents looked ahead to an arduous rebuilding job while continuing to deal with short-term obstacles such as sharing the homes of friends and relatives, traffic tie-ups and an advisory to boil drinking water. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Floodwaters from the Souris River surround homes on 3rd St. N.W. near Minot State University June 27 in Minot, N.D. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. An earthen levee sits on top of 3rd Street N.W. in Minot, N.D., giving some protection to one house, left, and damming the Souris River on the other side near Minot State University, June 27. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. The National Guard provides two large "bladders," water tanks that hold thousands of gallons of water, one for non-potable water and one for potable water, for the water supply to Trinity Hospital in downtown Minot, N. D., near the Souris River in Minot June 27. There have been no reported deaths or injuries in the biggest flood in area history but floodwaters have all but swallowed more than 3,000 homes and displaced more than 12,000 Minot-area residents. (Allen Fredrickson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Mobile homes are submerged in floodwater as the Souris River crests as seen from the air June 26 in Minot, North Dakota. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Businesses are surrounded by floodwaters as the Souris River crests, June 26, in Minot, N.D. The Souris River surpassed its 1881 record level of 1,558 feet above sea level, flooding an estimated 4,000 homes in the city. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Zach Hillman, left, and Bill Damschen with the U.S. Geological Survey team mark the crest of the river with orange paint on a sidewalk across the street from Saint Therese The Little Flower Catholic Church in Minot, N.D., June 26. (Allen Fredrickson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Emergency workers survey flood damage June 26, in Burlington, N.D. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. John and Deb Walker, evacuated from their home flooded by the Souris River, hug during a church service for three Lutheran congregations held at The Vegas Hotel Sunday, June 26, in Minot, N.D. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Federal workers use a boat to take North Dakota National Guard engineers off their equipment after securing cables to a pedestrian bridge over the flooding Souris River on Saturday, June 25, in Minot, N.D. The plan to drag the debris-filled bridge into a railyard parking lot was suspended because of lightning in the area. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Homes are reflected in floodwaters, with the earthen levee of one house, center, appearing to remain intact in Minot on June 25. (Allen Fredrickson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A member of the National Guard runs down a newly built dike to help residents pack up as sirens sound declaring a mandatory evacuation of Sawyer, N.D., just south of Minot, on June 25. The floodwaters are expected to crest in Minot late Saturday or early Sunday. (Craig Lassig / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Rescue workers help a man who was trapped when his car stalled in flooding from the Souris River on Highway 52 south of Minot, June 25. (Craig Lassig / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A railroad line is covered by floodwater from the Souris River on June 25 in Minot. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Floodwaters of the Souris River flow through a neighborhood in Minot on June 24. The river broke the 1881 record for flooding there, rising so quickly that it could be seen climbing up the side of homes. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Trucks bring in dirt as work continues on the dikes to keep back the Souris River in Minot on June 24. (Craig Lassig / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Members of the North Dakota National Guard place sandbags on top of the dike that surrounds a library and fire station in Minot on June 24. (Craig Lassig / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Floodwaters of the Souris River breach a levee and flood a neighborhood on June 24 in Minot. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. A homemade measuring stick marks feet above the ground as the Souris River rises in Minot on June 24. (Craig Lassig / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. A farm house and barn are surrounded by floodwaters from the Souris River near Velva, N.D., on June 24. The flooding is being fed by heavy rain upstream and water releases from reservoirs. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Floodwaters from the Souris River surround a farm house and barn near Burlington, N.D., on June 24. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. A tractor-trailer drives through floodwaters from the Souris River on Highway 2 near Velva, N.D., on June 24. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. National Guard Sgt. Chris Franck naps in the Burlington, N.D., fire hall after a shift on flood duty on June 24. At least one-third of the town's 1,000 residents were forced to evacuate. (Dale Wetzel / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Flood waters begin to pour through a breached levee and and around the Minot Country Club on June 23 in Minot. Officials in North Dakota's fourth-largest city said Thursday they had done all they could to protect critical infrastructure from the rising Souris River as it headed toward a record flood. (Christian Randolph / The Grand Forks Herald via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Volunteers race to add two more feet of sand bags to a massive dike around Mary Dittus' family gas station. Higher crest estimates of the Souris River flood waters were announced and more evacuations were ordered in Minot, on Thursday. (Craig Lassig / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Kathy Siverton steps over sandbags as she packs up her belongings and evacuates her home on Thursday in Minot. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Sounthbound traffic is backed up on the Highway 83 bypass as residents flee the rising flood waters from the Souris river, Thursday, in Minot. (Christian Randolph / The Grand Forks Herald via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. A neighborhood is submerged by flood water from the Souris River Thursday, in Minot. (Christian Randolph / The Grand Forks Herald via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Air Force Staff Sergeant Tina Miller and other volunteers race to finish a dike around the Little Flower Catholic Church after higher crest estimates of the Souris River flood waters were announced and more evacuations were ordered in Minot, North Dakota on Thursday, June 23. Reports state that up to one third of the city could end up underwater. (Craig Lassig / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Members of the North Dakota National Guard keep watch of the Souris River floodwaters in downtown Minot, N.D., on June 23. Nearly 11,000 residents have evacuated. (Craig Lassig / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Zach Peterson measures the height of a dike to prepare for Souris River floodwaters in Minot, on June 23. (Craig Lassig / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. National Guard personnel and members of the media watch as floodwaters from the Souris River threaten residential property as flood water is over topping earthen dikes in Minot, North Dakota on Thursday. (Allen Fredrickson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Crews continue to reinforce an earthen levee along the Souris River on Thursday in Minot, N.D. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Members of the North Dakota National Guard work through the night building dikes as the Souris River floodwaters rise in Minot, N.D., early on June 23. (Craig Lassig / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Floodwaters from the Souris river begin to flood a Minot neighborhood on June 22. As many as 10,000 people raced to evacuate Wednesday as water began spilling over Minot's levees. The river, which begins in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan and flows for a short distance though North Dakota, was all but certain to inundate thousands of homes and businesses during the next week. (Christian Randolph / The Grand Forks Herald via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Frank Hughes, right, and Cheyenne Johnson pass the time in the temporary disaster relief shelter set up at the Municipal Auditorium in Minot, N.D. on June 22. (Christian Randolph / The Grand Forks Herald via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Darrin Cox and Shawna Newell help evacuate a home in Minot, N.D., on June 22, before the final order to evacuate was given. (Will Kincaid / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Construction crews build up a levee along the Souris River in Minot, N.D., on June 22. (Will Kincaid / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. This evacuated apartment building in Minot, N.D., was spraypainted on June 22 with a black line and "1969" -- a reference to how high the last big flood rose. The current flood is likely to be seven feet higher. (Will Kincaid / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. Soldiers with the North Dakota National Guard place sandbags on a temporary levee in Minot, N.D., on June 22. Some 500 soldiers were in the town of 40,000. (Patrick Moes / U.S. Army Corp of Engineers) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Other parts of North Dakota are getting hit by flooding on the Missouri River. This home near Bismarck was being swallowed up by Missouri River waters on June 22. (Brian Gehring / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image:
    Charles Rex Arbogast / AP
    Above: Slideshow (45) Flooding in North Dakota - Minot, N.D.
  2. Image: A community of homes is surrounded by floodwaters near Blair, Nebraska
    Lane Hickenbottom / Reuters
    Slideshow (11) Flooding in North Dakota - Midwest

Interactive: Flooding 2011

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