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.

“I’ve been here twice today already,” Menne said, looking out onto the submerged Hwy. 93, “and every time it’s higher.”

Road closures metrowide

Crews in Warroad set up concrete barriers Saturday to stop Lake of the Woods from flooding the town.

In Shakopee, MnDOT crews re-striped Hwy. 169 between County Road 18 and Pioneer Trail, creating an extra lane to help with rerouted traffic due to flooding road closures on Hwys. 41 and 101. And in Burnsville, one lane of northbound Interstate 35 was closed between Cliff Road and Black Dog Road to build a temporary dike for nearby businesses.

“This is inconveniencing hundreds of thousands of people,” Schmidt said of the closed bridges and roads. “It’s pretty major.”

In a rare step, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the Upper St. Anthony Falls lock gate in Minneapolis to help the rushing waters of the Mississippi River flow and ease flooding — only the sixth time it’s ever been done. It will help pass an extra 10,000 to 14,000 cubic feet per second through the lock chamber — enough water to fill an Olympic-sized pool every three to four seconds, spokesman Patrick Moes said.

“That’s extremely rare,” he said. “It’s impressive.”

‘It won’t take much’

River and lake levels aren’t going to recede for a while — especially with this week’s predicted rain. While the July 4th weekend is less than two weeks away, officials already are expecting water levels to be too high for water recreation on area lakes and rivers.

Since Jan. 1, a record-smashing 25.2 inches of precipitation have been recorded at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport — eclipsing the January-through-June mark of 21 inches set in 2001.

Now, rain rolling in Sunday is expected to add a half-inch to 1 inch of rain in the Twin Cities and the southwest portion of the state. Then, scattered showers are expected almost every day during the week, dropping anything from an inch of rain to as much as 2 to 4 inches through Friday, meteorologist Joe Calderone said.

“It won’t take much” to have additional impacts on rivers and lakes, he said.

Heavy rain also fell across the Red River Valley, causing some street and bridge closures and park flooding in Fargo, N.D., but nothing like the massive flooding in recent springs. The river is expected to crest in the Fargo-Moorhead area on Monday.

 

Staff writer Bill McAuliffe contributed to this report.

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141

Twitter: @kellystrib

 

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