The Souris River neared a lower-than-expected crest Saturday in Minot, where city officials hoped to ride out the high water without losing more than the thousands of homes already damaged by flooding.
The river had been expected to peak Saturday evening at 8 1/2 feet above major flood stage, but it leveled off hours earlier and the National Weather Service dropped the projection by nearly 2 feet as upstream flows weakened.
It was a brief boost for a city that has already taken a heavy blow. Mayor Curt Zimbelman said more than 4,000 homes had been flooded in an evacuation zone of neighborhoods nearest the river. About 11,000 people were ordered out earlier last week.
Sgt. 1st Class David Dodds, a spokesman for North Dakota's National Guard, said the situation had "kind of stabilized" Saturday. The Souris' channel wasn't getting any wider.
"The fact that more homes aren't being engulfed or being touched by the water, that's the one silver lining if you can even say there is one," Dodds said.
Gov. Jack Dalrymple said he was encouraged.
"It looks to me like, barring any rainfall the (flood-fighting) plan looks like it's holding up very well," he said.
At a news conference, Zimbelman warned that 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, 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.
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 believed that the problem would be remedied in one or two days.
Dalrymple spoke Saturday to flood evacuees at shelters at Minot State University's Dome, an indoor track and basketball arena, and at the City Auditorium. Thirty-seven people stayed at Minot State's shelter Friday night, and 237 people bedded down at the auditorium, the governor said.
The Minot State shelter was virtually deserted Saturday morning. One evacuee dozed among rows of cots lined up neatly on the dome's indoor track.
Dalrymple noted that although thousands had been displaced, relatively few were staying in shelters.
"It just seems like people are so well grounded here with, like, friends and family," Dalrymple said. "They're used to asking people to support each other, and they find places to go."
Minot State canceled classes this week. President David Fuller, who was biking around campus to check on conditions, said classes wouldn't resume until after July 4 and only if the Broadway Bridge was open.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency pledged assistance to flood victims in Burleigh and Ward counties, which include Minot and Bismarck, the state capital, which has been damaged by Missouri River flooding.
Sens. Kent Conrad and John Hoeven and Rep. Rick Berg had pushed for the aid in a call to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and said they hoped it would be extended to other flood-ravaged counties.