Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Beautiful Church Threatened by Unprecedented Floods

Minot, the fourth largest city in North Dakota, sits just 116 miles south of the Canadian border, and is in the Souris River valley -- indeed the Souris cuts right through the heart of downtown. Unfortunately for the inhabitants of Minot, the reservoirs and dams north of them, in the path of the river (including many dams built by the Army Corps of Engineers pursuant to Congressional authorization in 1944), are near to the point of overflowing, because of heavy spring rains added to winter melt from an above-normal snowfall.

Minot has experienced devastating floods in the past, but nothing like what is expected to hit it starting late Thursday or early Friday. Between a quarter and a third of its twelve thousand residents have been ordered to evacuate by Wednesday evening, June 22. The Souris River, currently at an elevation of 1,555 feet above sea level, is expected to rise eight feet higher, to 1,563 feet, by this weekend. If this happens, it will exceed the previous flood stage record of 1,558 feet last measured in 1881.

The Corps of Engineers has built levees sufficient to withstand a flow in the Souris of up to 11,000 cubic feet per second. But with the releases from reservoirs in both Saskatchewan and North Dakota upstream, as their own dams threaten to be breached, the flow hitting Minot by late Thursday or early Friday is expected to be from 17,000 to as high as 20,000 cubic feet per second. These catastrophic flow rates, coupled with the unprecedented height of the flood stage itself, threaten to overwhelm the levees, and thereby dramatically worsen the extent of the flooding.

One of the landmarks of Minot is its Scandinavian Heritage Park, a cultural mecca for both tourists, and for all of the area's many descendants from Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland. This Park is situated south of the center of downtown, west of the intersection of 2nd Street SW (the continuation of Broadway) and 11th Avenue SE, in an area which fortunately is on slightly higher ground, and is thus not included in the latest evacuation plan. But as always with Mother Nature, things could change, dramatically and unexpectedly, at the last moment. A call to the Park's headquarters resulted in a recorded message stating that, due to the flood emergency, the offices would be closed from today forward, and that the traditional "Midsummer Night Festival" scheduled in the Park for Friday evening, June 24, had been canceled.

One of the centerpieces of the Scandanavian Heritage Park is this beautiful, full-size replica, built in 1999-2000, of the Gol Stave Church in Oslo, Norway, which was originally built in about 1250 A.D., in Gol, Hallingdal, and then moved to Bygdoy Park in Oslo about 100 years ago:

(Click on the image to enlarge and see the amazing detail. The original image, in even higher resolution, may be viewed by enlarging the picture at this link.)

Although the building in Minot is used as a museum, and not as a functioning church, its elements are all connected with the Nordic religion which gave the original structure its reasons to be built, as explained in this piece. Consider the remarkable structure as the Scandinavian equivalent, fashioned out of wood staves, of a medieval Gothic stone cathedral -- and let us pray for its safe escape from the impending floodwaters.


  1. I visited there 2 years ago. It is indeed a wonderful cultural and relegious site.

  2. "A Beautiful Church Threatened by Unprecedented Floods"

    It seems as though we have been living the title of this post since 2003.