Cities bracing for rising floodwaters

Statewide, a staggered series of river crests is expected over the next few days.

Authorities across the state said Saturday that they believe they can handle the anticipated flooding — unless another torrential downpour is dumped on the region in the coming days.

Workers and volunteers finished building up levees and dikes, adding pumps and sectioning off roads with concrete barriers in anticipation of rising rivers and swelling lakes that are expected to test the flood-protection measures statewide.

It left authorities optimistic that there would be no disastrous effects if rainfall is normal.

But “if we start adding 2, 3, 4 inches of rain, all bets are off,” said Craig Schmidt, a hydrologist at the National Weather Service in Chanhassen. “There’s just nowhere for this to go. Every corner [of the state] — from International Falls to I-90 [is experiencing flooding]. It’s unusual to get this much rain for this long.”

It’s too late for many residents like some homeowners in Henderson, who had to evacuate homes damaged in a landslide. And this month’s rainfall — on record as the rainiest June since 1874 — already has closed roads and bridges, inundated farm fields and destroyed homeowners’ basements.

Now, already overfull wetlands, lakes and rivers will be tested with a predicted 1 to 2 inches of rain for Sunday.

“Things start to creep up and then they start to recede and then just when you think it’s crested, it rains,” said Kris Eide, Minnesota’s Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. “It’s really like bad spring flooding; it’s just spread across the state.”

Like spring flooding, cities are now in a holding pattern, waiting to see if sandbags and levees can hold back more rain.

On Saturday, the rising Crow River was lapping at the base of a bridge in Delano, where the city finished building a levee in anticipation of the river cresting Sunday afternoon at 20.6 feet — a level the city has seen only four times in the past 49 years.

In St. Paul, the Mississippi River is expected to crest Thursday just under 20 feet, but rising waters already have closed such parks as Harriet Island and numerous roads.

And in Henderson, the Minnesota River has surpassed flood stage, heading toward a Monday crest. The city declared a state of emergency due to flooding and landslides that have damaged multiple homes, including two that were destroyed.

On the edge of town, a hill slid down into a farm field. “It just brought everything with it,” Mayor Paul Menne said.

Three more homes are deemed “at risk,” displacing a total of five families to local hotels.

Nearby, Richard Mediger stood at the edge of his back yard, which had sunk a few feet in the rain. The back of his garage was beginning to detach, pulled down toward the creek a few hundred feet below.

“We’re going to be ready to [evacuate] if they can’t stop it,” Mediger said as his wife and two daughters packed. “We’ll have to.”

He said he didn’t notice the landslide until after Thursday’s storm, when a tree in his back yard was crooked. The land has continued to move in the past couple of days, he said.

Emergency services manager Tom Phillips said some residents are finding their way out of their houses on foot or on four-wheelers, and many of those displaced are now staying with relatives. Some rural homes were without water Saturday because wells were inundated, he said, but the city planned to get bottled water to them.

Most routes into the town are closed. And about 20 National Guard troops are continuing to help after being dispatched there Friday; more troops are helping sandbag the Rainy River and Rainy Lake in northern Minnesota’s Koochiching County.

Like those in many cities, residents in Henderson are left monitoring dikes built on the edge of town, hoping they keep the flood from rushing in.

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